In the early days of the Algoma Central, many of the passenger trains ran as mixed freight/passenger trains. Timetables from the 1920s show that almost all trains were mixed, and even in the late 1940s to early 1950s there was a mixed train service north of Hawk Junction. Up until the mid 1960s when passenger service on the Michipicoten subdivision was discontinued (once the Trans-Canada highway was constructed running right through Wawa), the train from Sault Ste. Marie split at Hawk Junction into trains for Michipicoten and Hearst. Southbound trains were combined at Hawk into a single train for the Sault.
The frequency of the regular passenger service has varied over the years but has generally been on an every-other-day basis, although in the 1970s and 1980s it was almost daily during the summer tourist season. This service continues to this day, and is also marketed by the railway to tourist as the "Tour of the Line", travelling literally the entirety of the railway.
The Agawa Canyon Tour began in the early 1960s. A cafe car and a couple coaches would be dropped off in the siding at Canyon by the northbound passenger train, #1. These cars would be lifted later by the southbound train and brought back to Sault Ste. Marie.
As the number of cars being dropped off increased, more engines were required to pull the train. Extra engines required for the tour train would run to Hawk Junction where they would be cut off. The southbound train would pick up extra engines at Hawk before proceeding. As the tour train grew larger, it became possible to have a train of more engines than cars between Canyon and Hawk Junction. Dale Wilson's book "Tracks of the Black Bear in Colour" has one photo of a 5-car train with 4 GP7s, and another of 4 GP7s with only 3 cars.
By 1969, the number of cars being dropped at Canyon had increased dramatically and the exisiting passenger equipment was becoming old, and would need to be upgraded for the tour train service. Car steps were extended (there is no raised platform at Agawa Canyon) and cafe cars were upgraded, but it was not a permanent solution. In 1969, the ACR began aquiring surplus first-class coaches from the Canadian Pacific Railway. By 1973 there were 18 "new" CPR coaches. Also in 1974 new dining cars were aquired from Union Pacific and Santa Fe, new baggage cars from the Denver & Rio Grande Western and also several more coaches from the Central of Georgia Railroad, and some rare 2-unit articulated coaches from Southern Pacific.
By 1975, all of the old heavyweight cars were replaced by new cars. The ACR modernized their new equipment with mechanical air conditioning systems to replace the ice bunkers.
Also around this time, the popularity of the Agawa Canyon Tour train had grown and it was being run as it's own train, no longer cars dropped off by the northbound regular. The train would now run to Canyon, where the engines would immediately uncouple and run around the train and wait for the return trip to the Sault. The Agawa Canyon Tour Train first ran as it's own scheduled train in 1976, with the tour train listed as nos. 1 and 2, and the regular train demoted to nos. 3 and 4. Train numbers were quickly changed back to the regular trains as 1 and 2, and the Tour Train as 3 and 4.
The tour train continued to grow in popularity and in peak seasons, the ACR would have to rent cars from Ontario Northland and VIA Rail in order to run the regular trains. When the tour business got really busy, the regular trains would again handle overflow tour train equipment. Since all of the ACR's own coaches will be in use on the first tour train, the overflow cars will consist of rented VIA and ONT cars. The regular northbound train would drop its tour cars at Canyon after the normal tour train had departed, having met south of Canyon, most likely at Frater. The southbound regular passenger train would receive a 30-minute run late order from Hearst to provide Canyon passengers with more time to enjoy the park before the southbound arrived to take them back to Sault Ste. Marie.
Given the popularity of the summer tour trains to Agawa Canyon, the railway eventually starting running a winter tour - the "Snow Train." This train would run from January to March to capitalize on the beauty of Algoma County in the winter. The Snow Train operates to Eton instead of Canyon, and passengers do not detrain due to the heavy amounts of snow the region accumulates. As with the summer tour, the regular passenger trains would carry the tour cars to Eton. 1 and 2 would actually meet at Eton and exchange the tour cars there. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the regular train was operating only on weekends during the winter months. (Fri-Sun for no. 1, Sat-Mon for no. 2) The snow train would only be run Saturday and Sunday.
Eventually the Snow Train would also be run as its own train, but its not clear when this started, but it was much later than the summer tour train, which began as its own train in 1976, while the snow train was still exchanged between the regular passenger train as late as 1988.This page ©2002-2005 Chris VanderHeide