written by Justin Brett
Algoma Central Railway is one of the most common sights in Northern Ontario and particularly Sault Ste. Marie. It's very difficult to take a trip within the province or even make your way around town without seeing some evidence of the railway line. Establishing such an omnipresent line took the work of quite a few men who are less recognizable, however, including one with the impressive name of Edgar Barnes Barber.
Mr. Barber spent much or all of his career working for the Central Railway, as his name first appeared in an executive context all the way back in 1913, when the original Hudson Bay Railway was still around and associated with Algoma Central. This was at a board meeting where he was elected assistant comptroller (a person in charge of supervising finances) for the company.
He would not stay at this position for very long, however, as in the September 15th meeting of 1917, Mr. Barber was elected vice-president and full comptroller of the company. The company at that point was under a great deal of debt, and his actions are credited with helping to reduce it with some specific, shrewd sales of land they owned. One book, Algoma Central Railway by O. S. Nock, also describes a rivalry of sorts between him and Sir James Dunn, who at this point had become President of the Algoma Steel Corporation and wanted control of the railway as well. Despite some shrewd politicking by Dunn, Barber was just as quick-witted when it came to business, and ownership of the railway stayed where it was.
That same book remarks that someone talented enough to be promoted so quickly could very well have found employment elsewhere given the dire financial straits the company was in at the time. Mr. Barber did not, however, and as the company is still around today it is clear his efforts and faith paid off. For his accomplishments to the Algoma Central company in general, his name accompanied a steamship, the E. G. Barber.
Edgar Barber is an interesting case of someone who seems to be known almost exclusively for what he did at his job, rather than his personal life, which arguably sets him apart from modern businessmen. These days it's common to know every part of what they do while off the clock, but that isn't the case for Mr. Barber. We know that he had a wife, Mary Elizabeth Barber, but in general it seems his personal business was not much of a concern for people, just his work. But there's a lot worse to be remembered for than, if you'll pardon the cliche, making the trains run on time.