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The Chemical Valley

flar

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The Chemical Valley
St. Clair River near Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan



This is a tour of the heavily industrialized region along the St. Clair River in Ontario and Michigan. The area south of Sarnia, Ontario is known as the Chemical Valley and forms the centre of Canada's petrochemical industry. The Chemical Valley is an integral part of the Canadian economy, supplying chemicals and raw materials for the automotive, agricultural, pharmaceutical and other industries. The petrochemical industry began in the 1850s when oil wells were commercialized nearby. Combined with local salt deposits and strategic access to other raw materials via the St. Lawrence Seaway, the chemical industry intensified quickly in the mid 20th century. Today oil is piped in directly from Alberta. Further downstream, Great Lakes freighters supply coal to several large power plants on the American side near St. Clair and Marysville, Michigan, and one on the Canadian side just south of Courtright, Ontario. The smokestacks can be seen for miles and miles and the alien landscapes of the many chemical plants make for some impressive imagery.




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androiduk

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WOW! Top of the line stuff flar. And in winter too! It ain't easy shooting out there in a Canadian winter, thanks very much. Does that scene on the back of the $10 bill exist and if so, where is it?
 

ShonTron

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The St. Clair Parkway (formerly Highway 40C) is one of the most interesting drives in southern Ontario. Nice pics.

I loved the 1970s Bank of Canada note issues - the $10 Sarnia chemical, the $20 Lake Moraine, the $1 loggers on the Ottawa River, the full colour RCMP Musical Ride on the $50.

That was a great note series, though the current issued notes aren't bad, even if the $5 looks too much like Canadian Tire 'Money' on the back.
 

typezed

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Does that scene on the back of the $10 bill exist and if so, where is it?
The scene on the back of the $10 bill was of a facility called at the time Polysar. A rubber manufacturer built during the war, it was originally owned by the government, which may have had some influence in it being chosen to be represented on the bill. The facility may be called Bayer now, or it may be something else, as the company has been split and flipped a few times.

I spent a summer in the early 80's working on the roof of the power plant there when they capped off some smoke stacks. My memory is that the scene on the ten could be seen from the top of that building. But I could be mistaken, since it was 25 years ago and I was only there for two or three months. Some of the units of the plant have since been mothballed (as has all of Dow next door), so the unit pictured on the bill may no longer exist.
 

urbanboom

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There is an odd beauty to those shots. Very hard to put into words, but they almost looks like pieces of art, sleeping in the snow.

Thank you for sharing.
 

Jayomatic

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Fantastic shots! I think I find all that extreme engineering to be incredibly fascinating. Did you get into any trouble while you were out taking shots? Knowing that if you were in the states, you'd probably be arrested on some stupid suspicion of terrorism.
 

flar

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^^I thought I might meet a security guard or two, but nobody bothered me.


The scene on the back of the $10 bill was of a facility called at the time Polysar. A rubber manufacturer built during the war, it was originally owned by the government, which may have had some influence in it being chosen to be represented on the bill. The facility may be called Bayer now, or it may be something else, as the company has been split and flipped a few times.

I spent a summer in the early 80's working on the roof of the power plant there when they capped off some smoke stacks. My memory is that the scene on the ten could be seen from the top of that building. But I could be mistaken, since it was 25 years ago and I was only there for two or three months. Some of the units of the plant have since been mothballed (as has all of Dow next door), so the unit pictured on the bill may no longer exist.
This is a reverse view of the old $10 bill.


You can see the four spherical tanks that appear on the ten and the old powerplant typezed mentioned. I agree the scene on the back of the ten may have been shot from the roof of this plant.

Here is a view of the same large chemical complex from Port Huron, Michigan:


Typezed is correct that Polysar became Bayer Rubber. I noticed the main Bayer building on Vidal St. was demolished recently (sometime in the past year or so). Dow has completely pulled out of Sarnia, but I think parts of it, and parts of what was Bayer, are being operated by other companies, possibly LanXess. It's hard to keep track of all the ownership and name changes of late.

An interesting note about the Polymer/Polysar/Bayer plant: I think it was originally a joint venture between the Federal Government and Dow Chemical to develop synthetic rubber during WWII. Apparently it was vital to our national interests and it incubated the huge concentration of chemical plants near Sarnia. The area is still vital to our economy, there is no way that these kinds of plants could easily be built today. The downside is the area is an environmental catastrophe, notably the chemical blob in the St. Clair River and the Indian Reserve completely surrounded by chemical plants.
 
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Uncle Teddy

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On that native reserve they've found birth rates for males is quite a bit lower than national average. They suspect all the chemicals are negatively impacting the natives.

Oh and great pictures.
 

Second_in_pie

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Wow those are some amazing pictures. The scenery pictured is almost bizarre; monolithic, dirty looking chemical plants, set on a beautiful forest meets river landscape, all lightly dusted by snow. Great job, it must take a good eye to make shots come out like that rather than just rusty old industrial buildings!

On one hand, it makes me disgusted by how human development totally destroys pristine natural beauty. But on the other hand, there's a semi-twisted natural beauty incorporated in it. I wonder if there's some way that that kind of industrial development could be made more natural and less obtrusive...

Though I wonder, with so many chemical plants, is that really all just supporting the local population of under 100k? I would have thought that that (as well as other industries and corporate businesses,) would be enough to support a much larger population. Maybe it's just me wishing that Canada could be competitive with the US, but there's a bunch of industry in the region, which has a 2 hour commuting population of maybe 100 000 people. What would it take so support something like 500k? :eek:
 

Kingsway

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they are great shots...i really like 38...its something about the promise of the blue sky and the irony of the crispness of the cold white snow and red buildings.
 

flar

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Though I wonder, with so many chemical plants, is that really all just supporting the local population of under 100k? I would have thought that that (as well as other industries and corporate businesses,) would be enough to support a much larger population. Maybe it's just me wishing that Canada could be competitive with the US, but there's a bunch of industry in the region, which has a 2 hour commuting population of maybe 100 000 people. What would it take so support something like 500k? :eek:
Chemical plants usually don't require a massive workforce like traditional manufacturing. There is a lot of R&D in the Chemical Valley, so there are engineers and lab people, and there are a lot of operators who watch the processes and make sure nothing goes wrong. There are tons of skilled tradesmen (millwrights, electricians, welders, pipefitters, etc.) who have very specialized experience working in this type of industry. A lot of maintenance and construction is contracted out to smaller companies and unions. All of these companies being located together in the Chemical Valley allows them to share the large pool of skilled people with experience in the chemical industry.
 

typezed

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The legacy of Polysar, Imperial Oil and Dow contributes to the size and economy of the local community. All those retirees. Present operations starting fresh today would probably support an even smaller population. Polysar at its height had something like 1500 unionized workers, half doing process operations and half maintenance. There was also a far greater presence of administrative and research work than there is now. I've heard of newer facilities, although large in scale, requiring a surprisingly small number of full time employees to operate them.

I checked the population of Fort McMurray. It's around 65,000, but expected to grow quickly to 100,000. (Would the workers in the labour camps be included in those numbers?) I don't know what the scale of production would be in Fort McMurray compared to Sarnia. They're also doing resource extraction there, and constructing new facilities.
 

Second_in_pie

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Chemical plants usually don't require a massive workforce like traditional manufacturing. There is a lot of R&D in the Chemical Valley, so there are engineers and lab people, and there are a lot of operators who watch the processes and make sure nothing goes wrong. There are tons of skilled tradesmen (millwrights, electricians, welders, pipefitters, etc.) who have very specialized experience working in this type of industry. A lot of maintenance and construction is contracted out to smaller companies and unions. All of these companies being located together in the Chemical Valley allows them to share the large pool of skilled people with experience in the chemical industry.
Ahh, thought so. Quite interesting...
 

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