In-direct funding to Watco Rail has ‘eliminated’ union-employees upset

The Agawa Tour Train departs the new station, September 26, 2021 (Dan Gray/

The sale of local CN assets to Watco Rail, which resulted in the layoff of 52 unionized workers, has drawn scrutiny from the Ontario government by the laid-off workers.

They believe that state funds that have indirectly flowed into the railway line are something like “salt in the wound”, as the phrase goes.

On March 25, 2022, FutureSSM, a division of the Department of Economic Development and Business Services of the City of Sault Ste. Marie, was awarded $500,000 to develop a global marketing campaign to attract more visitors from Southern Ontario, the United States and around the world to the Agawa Canyon Tour Train.

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This came less than two months after the sale of the rail lines and local assets.

“I am proud of our government’s $1 million investment in Sault Ste. Marie, with $500,000 each to the Agawa Canyon Tour Train and the Algoma Conservatory of Music, both of which operate in the Canal District,” said Ross Romano, MPP for Sault Ste. Marie back then. “Having persevered for the past two years, our city is poised to showcase our incredible talent and natural beauty. This funding will create 13 full-time positions and a number of part-time and seasonal positions. I am very excited about investments like this, which help us expand and enhance what our city has to offer.”

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Ross Romano’s office recently clarified at our request that this funding, through a grant from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, neither benefited nor went to Watco Rail.

The Agawa Canyon Tour Train and Algoma Central Railway were part of the sale to Watco Rail as they were previously controlled by CN.

Some of the union jobs terminated were those who worked in the Agawa Tour Train’s hospitality industry, as well as jobs related to the railway line that the Tour Train travels on, such as machinist and machine operator jobs, signals and communications personnel, clerical workers, and more.

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Funding in March was also used to enhance the rail passenger experience through further development of the Group of Seven’s itinerary and the purchase of GPS-enabled flat-screen technology, allowing for narration and storytelling at key points along the journey the history and geophysical significance of the area and Agawa Canyon.

“Supporting local tourism initiatives creates jobs, keeps the North competitive and encourages new investment,” said Greg Rickford, Minister for Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry. “Our government’s targeted funding is driving economic prosperity in our communities and offering real opportunities for Northerners.”

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