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Investors renovating former offices of an industrial powerhouse

Published on

Phil Egan

Kevin Oake sat in a meeting room in Vancouver thinking about a city he’d never seen.

The mortgage broker was attending an investment club presentation on real estate opportunities in Sarnia, Ont. Oake was intrigued. Home prices in Sarnia seemed too good to be true, and a description of the city had definite appeal.

A short time later, Oake and business partner Kevin Vennesland were in town looking at residential properties and getting to know the city.

“We had no idea,” Oake said, “that this area was the birthplace of the North American oil industry.”

While driving on Campbell Street Oake spotted an attractive commercial building. Two months ago, the partners bought the two-storey, 5,800-square-foot brick building at 251 Campbell St. and are renovating it for lease as commercial space.

They soon discovered the building had a historic past, for it was once the Canadian headquarters of the Sarnia Bridge Company.

Sarnia Bridge was a structural steel fabricating company that built bridges, steel scaffolding, and “Massillon steel joists,” once popular in steel structures.

It was involved in the construction of the Cull Drain Bridge in 1910, the Blue Water Bridge (1938) and supplied clients on both sides of the international border.

By the time of the company was taken over in 1958 by Anthes-Imperial Limited, Sarnia Bridge had become a publicly-traded industrial giant with subsidiary offices in Toronto and Montreal and 43 warehouses and sales agencies coast-to-coast in Canada.

Founded in 1907 by three Port Huron men, the company was initially known as the Jenks-Dresser Company, named for two of its founders. In 1910 it changed its name to the Sarnia Bridge Company and was located on Imperial Oil land adjacent to the Mueller Manufacturing Works.

By 1920, the company had a capacity of 10,000 tons of structural steel product annually.

As Sarnia Bridge grew it moved to the Campbell Street location. Building additions ultimately housed an engineering staff of 10 and an office staff of 10. Four warehouse-sized buildings adjacent to the Campbell Street head office took raw steel from rail cars and processed it into scaffolding and other finished structures. An 80-foot-span travelling crane with 25-ton carrying capacity aided the process.

The former office building’s new owners are investing tens of thousands of dollars in renovating to “make it pop” while preserving historic features like the 10’ x 10’ vault with its big steel doors.

When new tenants move in their address will boast an historic industrial pedigree.


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