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The Arrival of Francis H. Clergue

There is as much mythology and mystique surrounding the arrival of Francis Hector Clergue in the Town of Sault Ste. Marie as there is surrounding the man himself. Contrary to popular belief, Clergue did not arrive in Sault Ste. Marie by happenstance. His arrival was a carefully planned and orchestrated event.

In the spring of 1894, John J. Kehoe and Henry C. Hamilton, both lawyers and both principals in the original power company, the Sault Ste. Marie Gas, Light and Power Co., were travelling to Toronto by train. During the course of the trip, Kehoe fell into conversation with H.B. Foster of Bangor, Maine. The conversation turned to hydroelectricity at which point Kehoe drew Hamilton into the conversation. Kehoe and Hamilton outlined for Foster the attempts made first by the private company and then by the Town of Sault Ste. Marie to produce hydroelectricity using the force of the rapids in the St. Mary’s River. Foster indicated that he was an acquaintance of Francis Clergue, an entrepreneur and promoter, who was at that time in the employ of a group of financiers from Philadelphia. Coincidentally, these financiers were looking for hydroelectric investment opportunities in eastern Canada. When the men parted company, Foster promised to mention the Sault and its incomplete and financially depleted hydro installation to his friend Clergue.

True to his word, Foster brought the matter to the attention of Clergue. As a result of this conversation, there was communication between Foster and Kehoe followed by correspondence between Clergue and Hamilton. Clergue and Hamilton met by prior arrangement in Toronto in August or September of 1894. They worked out an agreement that they believed would be acceptable both to Clergue’s backers and to the Town of Sault Ste. Marie, then they arranged for Clergue to travel to Sault Ste. Marie in order to personally present his offer to Town officials for the purchase of the hydroelectric facility.

In September of 1894, Clergue and one his Philadelphia colleagues, Edward Varian Douglas, arrived in Sault Ste. Marie by C.P.R. steamship. Rather than stay in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, they landed in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan where they registered at the Park Hotel under assumed names. The clandestine atmosphere surrounding their arrival and their intentions was further enhanced by the fact that for at least a week following their arrival, they met secretly with Kehoe and Hamilton as well as with Nelson Simpson and William Henry Plummer to prepare the presentation Clergue and Douglas planned to deliver first to Town Council and then to a Town Meeting.

Clergue and Douglas addressed the Town Meeting on 1 October 1894. They conditionally offered to purchase all of the stock the Town owned in the Ontario and Sault Ste. Marie Water and Light Company for $260,000, an amount which represented the Town’s total investment in the project. Clergue sweetened the offer by promising that the new company he proposed to form would spend at least $200,000 in Sault Ste. Marie by the end of 1895 and an additional $300,000 by the end of 1897. The conditions attached to the purchase by Clergue and Douglas were first that the Town was to grant them the exclusive right to supply water and electricity to the Town and second that the Town would exempt this company as well as any other companies that Clergue and Douglas might form in the future from the payment of municipal taxes for a period of ten years.

The offer made by Clergue and Douglas was accepted by the Town Council and subsequently approved by a meeting of ratepayers. Written agreements were signed between the parties on 3 October 1894 granting the appropriate water and light franchises. Clergue had arrived.