Iron Ore Docks – Excerpt From Skillings Mining Report

From the Summer 2007 edition of the KRAA newsletter.

There are always a lot of questions about what went on at Key Harbour during the early days. I have covered quite a number of interesting facts in my previous submissions, but have never included the following, which I copied from Vol. XLIII of the Skillings Mining Report, published every
Saturday morning, this dated at Duluth, Minnesota, March 19, 1955. You may wonder how I got my hands on this newspaper; I worked for CN Rail, on the ladder, one always spent some time as a File Clerk, since I was already interested in all things related to the Key, this just happened to fall into my hands.

Remember, this was written in 1955.

Iron ore shipments from the Georgian Bay? A rather strange thought this is today when most of the fabulous tonnage of iron ore that moves across the Great Lakes each year comes from Lake Superior ports and one harbour on Lake Michigan. Shipments have been more or less standardized in the past four decades on the five U.S. and two Canadian ore shipping ports. But there are some among our readers, however, who will recall the day when the Georgian Bay was the scene of iron ore tumbling down long spouts into the holds of Lake ships, and we may all see ore shipments from this area resumed within the next few years. Yes, it was the iron ore loading dock of the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway located at Key Harbour, Ont. that was the site for those shipments. This dock was constructed in the year 1908 for the purpose of handling the iron ore output from the Moose Mountain iron mines. Shipments over the dock were relatively light (exceeding 100,000 tons in only one year – 1913) and the life of the dock was short with the final loadings being made in 1916 and the structure being dismantled in 1924. Key Harbour, Ont., is located on Key Inlet, one of the many deep rocky indentations at the northeast extremity of Georgian Bay. The Key afforded a splendid natural harbour with ample depth of water in the channel and alongside the coal and ore docks for the largest vessels of that time. The ore dock was located on Georgian Bay at the entrance to Key Inlet and the channel leading to the dock had four principal courses, each marked by a pair of wooden day beacons and eight gas buoys. Ships could, thus, follow the markers to thread their way through the myriad of rocky islands, large
and small, into the ore dock.

Use Conveyor for Hoisting Ore

Aside from the unique location of this operation, the dock itself had many innovations. It was of an original design and unlike any dock on the Great Lakes for handling iron ore at that time or since. Most interesting perhaps, 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. Ore from the mines, loaded in hopper-bottomed cars were dumped from a highline inside the storage shed to a stockpile ground beneath. Under this stockpile, in line with the centerline of the trestle, was a tunnel through which a conveyor belt operated. This tunnel belt moved the ore to a similar belt at the water’s edge, which in turn conveyed and elevated the ore to the dock trestle – sixty feet above the water level. The ore was then tripped off the belt and dumped into pockets from which it was spouted into the holds of the vessels alongside the dock. The first ore was loaded at Key Harbour in the year 1909 and the last ore was dumped in to vessels in the year 1916 when 2 small cargoes, carried over from the previous year, were loaded for Deseronto. The ore that was handled over the Key Harbour ore dock originated at the Moose Mountain Mine about 80 miles north of the Harbour. The mine was located at the village of Sellwood, in Hutton Township of Ontario which is about 35 miles north of Sudbury, the nearest important centre. At The Moose Mountain Mine much time and money was spent in an unsuccessful attempt to produce a high grade commercial product (including iron briquettes) from the lean siliceous magnetite of the iron formation. A branch of the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway from Toronto to Sudbury was built from Sudbury north to the mine at Sellwood, a distance of 35 miles. Another six mile spur off the main line, from a few miles south of the French River, at a point called Key Junction, was constructed to the Key Harbour ore dock. This made rail haul for the ore moving down from the mine to the dock about 80 miles – about the same as the average haul of the iron ore carrying roads in Minnesota. The Key Harbour shipping point was some times nearer to the iron ore receiving ports than the head of Lake Superior.

The freight rates that were in existence in 1914 on iron ore shipments from Sellwood, Ontario, rather interesting to note and were as follows:

To Sault Ste. Marie – all rail$1.60
To Parry Sound – all rail$1.00
To Deseronto – all rail$1.55
To Key Harbour includeing loading into boats to Canadian Ports$0.65

The lake freight rate from Key Harbour and Lake Erie ports in 1914 was 40 cents and in 1914 it was 35 cents.

At that time there was an import duty of 40 cents per ton on ore shipped to the U.S. A good share of the ore that moved out over the Key Harbour dock was consigned to the Oglebay Norton & Co. and was unloaded at Toledo. There is record of some of the iron briquettes being shipped to Cleveland for use in Republic Iron & Steel Corp.’s blast furnaces.

That’s it for this one, but there is lots more to come, hope you find it as interesting as I do.
[Ed. Note: see page 88 Northeastern Georgian Bay and Its People, by Bill Campbell.]