Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan “The Rapids of St. Mary”
The roaring river of St Mary’s separates the twin cities, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario and Sault Ste Marie, Michigan on the northwestern tip of the UP of Michigan. The International Bridge takes road traffic over the St Mary’s River, which is the connecting river between two of the Great Lakes: Lake Superior to Lake Huron.
This is home to The Soo Canal, the longest locking system in the world, commonly called “The Soo” by locals. A stop at the Information Center gives you additional information regarding the magnitude of the locks and their importance to shipping in the Great Lakes Region. Through The Soo, it is possible to watch very large ships being lifted or dropped 21′ as they go through the rapids from lake to lake. Two of the ships being moved this particular day were the S S Atlanta Huron, a bulk Canadian freighter measuring 736′ X 76′, and Lee A Tregurtha, an original WWII tanker now sailing for over sixty years,measuring even larger at 826′ X 75′.
It was fascinating to watch the ships being moved and there were several vantage points. A nearby tower provided an overview of the area, while it was also possible to watch the ships from the dock area – nearly close enough to touch them.
The Tower of History also gave great overviews of the city as well as the locks. Built in 1969 by the Catholic Church, its purpose was to tell the history of the early missionaries. Today the story of Native Americans as well as the early missionaries is told with pictures, films and displays. 2000 years ago the Native American Indians gathered near the waters here due to the abundant supply of fish and furs. The Tower of History is 210′ high with outside balconies to make viewing a pleasure. Since it was a very windy day, it was advised that visitors not go to the top. But that was just a challenge and proved quite scenic.
The following day, an early morning train, Agawa Canyon Tour Train, left Sault Ste Marie on the Canadian side. The round trip of 228 miles over towering trestles into the Canadian wilderness provided a scenic view including many lakes, waterfalls and pines. At the farthest end of the tour, the train sweeps down into Agawa Canyon with a stop at Canyon Park, home to many beautiful waterfalls.
Before leaving Sault Ste Marie the next day, visited the Museum Ship Valley Camp, an actual retired ship. The S.S. Valley Camp was built in 1917 by a shipbuilding company in Lorain, Ohio. It is possible to walk not only the decks, but also visit the living quarters and explore inside from top to bottom. Valley Camp once had a crew of 29 men, so is the perfect place to display lifestyle of the Great Lakes’ sailors. From the more luxurious Captain’s Quarters to the rather plain cabins of the Oilers and Coal Passers, visitors receive a true glimpse into how they lived and worked onboard.
A museum with over a hundred exhibits exists inside Valley Camp. Many items are displayed that have been recovered from sunken ships in the Great Lakes. An attractive aquarium features many of the fish who swim in the St Mary’s waters.
Sault Ste Marie does not claim to be tourist country, but it certainly holds many interesting pieces of the past for the curious to explore.
To reach Sault Ste Marie on the US side, take I-75 North to its end.