Coal and Ore Docks

From the Winter 2000 edition of the KRAA newsletter, written by Susan McKay. The KRAA takes no responsibility for sites not hosted on

The coal dock was built by the Canadian National Railway Bride and Building Department, headquarters in Capreol, in 1908. The CN had coal shipped into Key Harbour from various coal mines they owned in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Ships owned by the Pioneer Steamship Company (Hutchinson and Company fleet) carried the coal. Ships were approximately 300 feet in length and carried approximately 7000 tonnes. Coal was the main operation at Key Harbour in the beginning. It was stockpiled just south of Capreol, at Hammer Pit for CNR Northem Division operation. It was also brought in for the Ontario Northland Railway and for International Nickel Company smelters. All locomotives backed into Key Harbour, ran around the consist of cars and wore then able to pull the loaded cars out to the main line the Bala Subdivision. Each locomotive was equipped with “sanders’ over the driving wheels of the engine in order to get traction to pull. There was a Wye at Key Junction where the engines could change direction. The CNR coal dock was built completely of wood pilings and ties. It ran straight west from the mainland at the end of track. It was built 1,200 feet long and was three tracks wide. There was a wooden catwalk from the inside centre over to the electric power generating building or powerhouse on the north shore. When more than one ship was in port waiting to be unloaded, they anchored close to the southwest side of the docks.

Brown hoists were used to unload the ships. They were coal burning, steam-powered hoists using a two-yard capacity clam. The brown hoists operated on a raised track six fect higher on the shipside of the dock. The clam lifted coal from the hold of the ship over the track and dropped into the coal cars on the next track. The men worked 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, while unloading a ship. It took between 42 and 48 hours to complete unloading. The coal dock was later used for the commercial fishing industry.

The iron ore dock was also constructed in 1908 for the purpose of handling the iron orc output from the Moose Mountain Iron Mines north of Capreol, Shipments over the dock were relatively light (exceeding 100,000 tonnes in only one year – 1913) the life of the orc dock was short, with the final loading being made in 1916, and the structure being dismantled in 1924. The ore dock had many innovations. It was of an original design and unlike any other dock on the Great Lakes for handling iron ore at that time. Most interesting was the fact that at this early date, 1908, conveyor belts were used to elevate the ore from the railroad car dumping point to the dock trestle. The Key Harbour ore dock consisted of earth fill and a pile trestle extending out into the deep water of Key Inlet.

The wooden dock structures included a storage shed 600 feet in length located on the shore, an incline 500 feet in length, and the loading dock 300 feet long and 24 feet wide with conventional pockets and spouts on one side, 60 feet high. Ore from the mines, loaded in hopper-bottomed cars, was dumped from a high line inside the storage shed to a stockpile beneath.

Under this stockpile in line with the centre line of the trestle; was a tunnel through which a conveyor belt operated. This “tunnel belt” moved the ore to a similar belt at the power house point water’s edge, which in turn elevated the ore to the dock trestlc-60 feet above water level. The ore was then tripped off the belt and then dumped into pockets from which it was spouted into the hold of vessels alongside the dock.

The first ore was loaded at Key Harbour in the year 1909 and the last ore was dumped into vessels in 1916, when two small cargoes, carried over from the previous year, were loaded for Deseronto (eastern Lake Ontario). Generally the ships carried approximately 4000 tonnes of orc outbound. The ore was transported down from Sellwood, a small CN town, close to Moose Mountain Mine, on special 21 ore car trains, hauled by what is known as a light locomotive. This locomotive brought 7 cars into the storage house at the Harbour each run and it required about 1 hour to dump a 21 car train. The run from the yard to the storage house was about ¾ mile. The train moved into the ore storage house on a timber trestle high line. Along each side of the track was a plank walk way about 4 ft. above the rail where the men walked while dumping the cars. The cars were of the centre dump type dumping down and outwards against the wheel, but clear of the inner axles. From this stockpile of ore the convey or belts took over and the employment this medium for transporting orc was quite advanced for that early date.

When American ships came in or out, papers had to be processed at the Customs office. The Customs office is where I [Susan McKay] grew up and is now the Lambovitch cottage (K09). Dave Hudson, Arnold’s father was on of the Customs officers.

The commercial fishing industry used the coal dock for years afterwards, but once the steel was lifted and we no longer had a spur line from Key Junction to Key Harbour the dock started to fall apart.

I have some photographs of the operation which I am including here and though this information is not exactly about the Key River Area Association archives, I feel it is important to know about the commercial operation at Key Harbour.

There is so much history here and it is so interesting that want to include as much as I can.

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