Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is often endearingly referred to as “Soo”. It is separated from its twin town in Michigan, U.S. by the St. Mary’s River rapids, which connects Lake Huron with Lake Superior. For thousands of years before European explorers arrived, the rapids were used by Indians as a meeting and fishing place where whitefish were baited. A settlement was first established in 1668 by Jesuit missionaries. Today, Sault Ste. Marie is an industrial town with a population of more than 80,000. Along with a number of pulp and lumber mills and a large steelworks, the city has a series of locks on the St. Mary’s River that has turned it into a major shipping center. Locks on the river enable large ships to bypass the rapids while passing between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. The canal is the busiest section of the St. Lawrence Seaway, handling more than 100 million tons of cargo every year.
Sault Ste. Marie is also linked to its Michigan twin by a road bridge, making it a popular pit stop for travelers. The unspoiled Algoma wilderness occupying the region north of the town draws outdoor enthusiasts, while the nature trails and tour trains that run out to the Agawa Canyon is a famous mainstream attraction.
The Soo Locks connect Lake Huron with Lake Superior at the bottom of Huron Street. There is a viewing platform where you can watch the steady stream of ships passing through. Alternatively, you can go down to the locks via the pleasant walking trails and see the action up close. There are a total of five locks: four American locks and one Canadian lock. The Canadian lock dates back to 1895 and is the oldest in the canal system. It is operated by Parks Canada and is used only for pleasure crafting. It has some lovely picnicking spots. Two-hour boat trips are offered from the Norgoma Dock off Foster Drive that take visitors through all the locks; they operate from May to October.
The MS Norgoma is permanently moored at the base of Elgin Street and is now part of a marine museum. The MS Norgoma was the last passenger cruise ship built and operated on the Great Lakes. Guided tours of the museum are offered every day from June to September.
Sault Ste Marie Museum
The Sault Ste. Marie Museum occupies a heritage building at the intersection of East Street and Queen Street. The museum is small, well-designed, and focuses on the history of the region. Every aspect of the area’s history and development over the past 10,000 years are depicted through displays and hands-on exhibits. It has a popular and interactive section called the Discovery Gallery.
Ermatinger Old Stone House
The Ermatinger Old Stone House is located at 831 Queen Street East. This lovely Georgian building dates back to 1814 and is among the oldest surviving houses in Northern Ontario. Charles Oakes Ermatinger, a wealthy fur trader, built it and lived in it with his wife, who was an Ojibwa princess. For many years, it provided a resting place for passing explorers. Today, it is a museum that features exhibits and displays on one floor and a restored replica of the old house on the other floor, complete with period furniture from the early 19th century.
The Agawa Canyon is the main attraction of Sault Ste. Marie and is most popularly visited by hopping aboard the Algoma Central railway. This adventurous excursion takes passengers north of the city into the beautiful canyon. The trip lasts 9 hours and begins in the town of Hearst. The train plunges deep into thick forests of wilderness, passing rivers, gorges, and lakes along mountain ledges and trestle bridges. The trip includes two hours of free time for passengers to hike, explore, climb, fish, and take pictures. Some trip packages even allow passengers to stay for more than a day in Hearst.
The Algoma Central train runs everyday from June to October. In the winter, another variation, the Algoma Central Snow Train, runs on the weekends from December to March. Tickets are very popular, whether in summer or winter, so advanced reservations are recommended.
While the railway is the main way of reaching the Agawa Canyon, there are also five nature trails that venture into the park. Be sure to visit the “Lookout”, an observation platform 250 feet above the tracks that is carved from the wall of a gorge. It offers stunning views of the canyon, but also requires visitors to climb 372 steps to reach. The Algoma Central Railway Station is located at 129 Bay Street.
Batchawana Bay is a large bay on the shores of Lake Superior. It stretches for miles, boasting beautiful lake views and sandy beaches. The bay is well-facilitated, supported by plenty of lodges and accommodations.
The best way to reach Batchawana Bay is by taking the Trans-Canada Highway (Route 17) north of Sault Ste. Marie headed towards the town of Wawa. The journey, nicknamed “the Lake Superior Drive”, totals 143 miles (or 230 kilometers) and passes through rugged Canadian Shield country, including Batchawana Bay.
Lake Superior Provincial Park
Lake Superior Provincial Park is a wilderness of forests and cliffs and includes the lovely Alona Bay. The park can be reached by taking the Trans-Canada Highway north of Sault Ste. Marie and driving beyond Batchawana Bay. The main attraction of the park is the Agawa Rock, which has painted Ojibwa Indian pictographs telling a series of stories and legends. The rock is said to be the inspiration for “The Song of Hiawatha”, Longfellow’s 1855 epic poem.
Gros Cap is a ridge that offers spectacular views of St. Mary’s River and the Great Lakes. It can be reached by taking Route 550 westbound. At Gros Cap, there is a marked trail that runs along the edge of the ridge.
Thanks to the St. Mary’s River and the two Great Lakes, boating and canoeing can be enjoyed very easily in Sault Ste. Marie. The Lake Superior Provincial Park, however, is a more beautiful setting for these two activities.
Fishing can be done at Lake Superior Provincial Park and at Batchawana Bay, where rivers provide more inland opportunities. You can also take the trip to Agawa Canyon. You can fish in the rivers and lakes of Agawa during the two-hour break aboard the Algoma Central train.
The waters in Sault Ste. Marie are cold, but if you are brave enough, you can go for a swim in Batchawana Bay, which has some nice beaches. The Kinsmen-Crystal Creek Conservation area (or Hiawatha Park) is another swimming area where you’ll find waterfalls and ponds. Hiawatha Park is only minutes northwest of town.
Cross-country skiing is available in the winter. Numerous world-class trails are found in the town itself. Outside of town, you can take the Algoma Central Railway aboard the Snow Train and do some weekend skiing in the Agawa Canyon. Alternatively, you can visit Ski Searchmont, which is about 30 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie on Route 556. This ski area offers both cross-country and downhill skiing, as well as hundreds of miles of trails for snowmobiling. 
How to Get There
Air Canada has flights that fly in and out of Sault Ste Marie. Unfortunately, there is no train service to the city, but Greyhound has buses that run from Sault Ste Marie to Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and other major cities within the region. There are also buses that go from Sault Ste Marie to American cities like Detroit and Chicago.
If you are driving, the Trans-Canada Highway (Route 17) connects Sault Ste. Marie with Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and other Canadian cities east-west. Approaching from the south, take I-75 from Detroit to reach Sault Ste. Marie.
Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Canada. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc, 1996. ISBN: 1556507100.
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