What’s the story behind that mysterious huge brown complex seen off the highway between Aldersyde and High River? I don’t know how many times, on trips to South Kananaskis, that I’ve passed by the place and asked myself that very thing. I never seemed find the time to stop…until now that is.
This is or actually was the site of the Magnesium Company of Canada (or MagCan), a state of the art facility built using (of course) a great deal of Government money. Opened in 1990 and closed not much more than a year later, during it’s brief existence it never came close to operating at full capacity. It never turned a profit and employment came no where near the levels promised.
The Magnesium ore was brought in by rail from a mine near Radium BC. Once ramped up, production was to be 30 tons of ingots per day. I am not sure if the fished product shipped by rail or by truck and I have no idea where the end customers were (but I’ll keep researching).
The closing of the plant was blamed on low metal prices, the high Canadian dollar and higher than expected operating costs. No doubt the latter could be partly blamed on the long distances the product had to travel between the mine, plant and end user. I can’t imagine how this spot could be considered ideal for this facility.
The question being asked, is where did all the money go? Over 100 million in loan guarantees was paid by the Alberta Government. Only a few people know I am sure and I doubt they’ll talk. Some pockets must have been lined, and the whole thing reeks of a scheme to me.
When the plant closed, employees were given a small souvenir ingot of Magnesium along with their pay.
During the ensuing years the MagCan plant was used for a couple other industrial concerns, but they did not seem to last long. I actually visited the site in the 1990s in my truck driving days, delivering some pipes to the facility. But I never saw inside any buildings and don’t recall who the shipment was for. The grounds at the time of my visit were as empty as they are now. A mystery.
A current idea being tossed around is using the site for a natural gas fuelled power plant. But it’s only talk at this point.
Jump to 2012, Connie and I finally decide it’s time to pay a visit to the Magnesium Company of Canada plant. It feels like were are pulling up to Area 51 or maybe we’re in an X-Files episode. There is no one around, nothing, yet the buildings and grounds before us looks in perfect condition. It’s like they left yesterday, but it’s been 20 years! It’s eerie, nothing is disturbed, nothing is overgrown. A very strange experience. We walk around the perimeter fence expecting some security guard to show up, but the whole time we were alone.
I have no idea how the buildings were utilized, but they sure are stunning. And huge! They can be seen for kilometres in all directions and it dominates the skyline near the busy highway.
There is rail loading area is near the south end of the plant. Rail cars would get delivered using CPR’s MacLeod Subdivision branch. Now little used and nothing more than a spur off the Aldersyde Subdivision mainline, this line passes right by the plant and now ends a few kilometres south at a meat processing facility. This place is rail ready for the next tenant that takes it over (if that ever happens).
Numerous power lines enter the property and I can only image how much electricity it would take to process the Magnesium into metal.
A sign near the site says Saddlebrook Industrial Park.
I’d sure love to go inside, but I doubt the current owners, if they could be found, would be accommodating to a hobby explorer like me. So for now, we peek thought the fences and imagine what’s inside.
Magnesium has many uses, but most its most known application is as a special strong but lightweight metal used in automotive components.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: September 2012.
Location: Between Aldersyde and High River Alberta.