First Nations-led railroad would be first of its kind in Ontario

The Missanabie Cree First Nation is on track to become Ontario's first Indigenous-led train operator.

Group looking to revive northern rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst

The Missanabie Cree First Nation is hoping it can restore the Algoma rail line which services communities between the Sault and Hearst. (Supplied/

The Missanabie Cree First Nation is on track to become Ontario's first Indigenous-led train operator.

The First Nation is in talks with CN Rail and Transport Canada to renew Algoma's passenger rail service, which travelled between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst until it lost its funding in 2014.

Since then, a coalition made up of area residents, municipal officials, First Nations and businesses has been working to get the service restored.

Although freight trains still run across the north, passenger rail travel is almost a necessity for the businesses and people in northern communities, said Riley Smith, who is working with the First Nation on finalizing the plans.

"It's really doing an injustice to the Algoma region by not having it run," Smith said. "It's really isolating a lot of those locations."

Riley Smith has been working with the Missanabie Cree First Nation to restore rail service in the north. (Olivia Stefanovich CBC)

In March of 2014, the federal government announced that CN Rail would be bringing the Algoma route to a halt, saying it didn't meet performance objectives at the time.

In April 2015, the federal government gave $5.3 million to the struggling service, turning over the operation to Railmark  for three years.

CN eventually took back control of the service after Railmark became embroiled in legal issues surrounding passenger service. 

Rich history of the north

Smith said passenger access to the remote areas would also tap into the north's history.

"[The train will service] locations where historically First Nations have hunted and used as traditional territory, but also where the Group of Seven have painted," she said.

"There's a lot of history in the region that isn't accessible without the train."

There's also an economic spinoff to having the train return.

Smith said between 170 to 220 direct and indirect jobs would be created if the Algoma passenger train service is renewed.

"It could mean a lot for Missanabie Cree in building their economic development, but also in kind of creating a name for themselves in a broader sense and also the job development."

Smith estimates the plan will take a few years to finalize.

Listen to the interview with Riley Smith here.

Funding for Algoma's passenger rail service was cut off three years ago. Now, Missanabie Cree First Nation is leading the way to bring it back. We heard more from Riley Smith who's assisting the First Nation. 5:45