Success secrets of Francis H. Clergue [the visionary founder of Algoma Steel] – by David Helwig (Soo – November 13, 2014)

If you look carefully at the structural steel in the oldest of those magnificent Romanesque buildings at the Mill Square redevelopment, you’ll see Andrew Carnegie’s maker’s mark.

Francis Hector Clergue used the American robber baron’s Carnegie Steel in the initial buildings of his new pulp mill. Clergue, as every Saultite knows, was the lawyer from Bangor, Maine who came here in 1894 on behalf of a group of Philadelphia capitalists looking for investment opportunities.

He founded St. Marys Paper, what is now Essar Steel Algoma, and Algoma Central Railway, all in just eight years from 1895 to 1902. Other buildings at the St. Marys Paper/ Mill Square site were built with Clergue’s Algoma Steel after the first local ingot was cast in 1902.

Glen Martin sees a ton of significance and symbolism in Clergue’s switch to homegrown Algoma Steel. Martin is the hirsute Los Angeles-based Saultite who was the initial driving force behind the Sault Ste. Marie Solar Park before the project was acquired by Starwood Energy in 2010.

He’s also the founder and chief executive officer of Energizing Company, a California startup that’s planning to deploy its flagship utility-distributed microgrid project here in Sault Ste. Marie. In recent months, Martin has been thinking a lot about the history of his hometown.

He shot the above photo in the former St. Marys Paper general administration building and showed it during his presentation at last week’s Energy Opportunities Conference, organized at Algoma’s Water Tower Inn by the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre.

He juxtaposed this image with one shown below of an Algoma Steel girder in the former St. Marys pulp tower.

“It marked a symbolic transition,” Martin says.

The birth of Algoma Steel was indeed an important juncture in the industrial histories of both Sault Ste. Marie and Canada.

“My feeling was that Clergue believed he could be as powerful as Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, et al because of the wealth of opportunity that the Sault offered,” Martin tells

The more Martin learns about Francis Clergue, the more he’s convinced that the Sault should be called Clerguesville.

In terms of industrial development, the Sault really wasn’t much of anything before Clergue showed up here.

For much of our history, we were a minor-league fur trading post.

More furs moved through Michipicoten than the Sault.

Local prospects were boosted by the opening of the U.S. ship canal in 1855 and the arrival in 1887 of a branch line of the Canadian Pacific Railway from Sudbury, as well the completion of the International Rail Bridge that same year.

But as Martin reads our local history, it wasn’t steel that built the Sault.

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