Sault Ste Marie, a little town with big history

Sault Ste Marie

Although our stay was short in this lovely town, Sault Ste Marie offered us a vibrant education.  Pronounced Soo Saint Marie,  Sault Ste Marie is the last city before crossing over into Canada.    We stayed the night in this, oldest city in Michigan and one of the oldest in the Midwest.  Several flags have flown over the city that has been a gathering place for Native Americans and Europeans alike. French and British fought over ownership of the port until 1820, when the Treaty of the Sault was signed.

This treaty turned control of the area over to the United States and in 1823. Fort Brady was built on the grounds of the old French Fort Repentigny. A whole lot of history had already happened by the time the US took control of this area lush in hunting, fishing and river life.

Situated along the St. Mary’s River, the river pours into Lake Superior the northernmost of the Great Lakes. Scholars think the meaning of  “Sault,” comes from early French and translates into jump, referring to the place where one needs to “jump”, or put into the St. Mary’s River. On the Sault Ste Marie history website,  in the early days there were “treacherous rapids and cascades that fall 21 feet from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower lakes. Hundreds of years ago, this prohibited boat traffic and necessitated an overland portage from one lake to the other. This is how Portage Avenue, the main street running along the river, acquired its name.”

Today there are the locks and dams that make this passage easier.  Watching a ship transcend this passage is quite amazing so is going to the museum that shares this cool history.

Sault Ste Marie

    Watching a ship cross the locks was fascinating.


The lock history!

The first lock was built in 1797 by the Northwest Fur Company.  They constructed a navigation lock 38 feet long on the Canadian side.  The lock remained in use until destroyed in the War of 1812.

Sault Ste Marie history states, “Congress passed an act in 1852 granting 750,000 acres of public land to the State of Michigan as compensation to the company that would build a lock permitting waterborne commerce between Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes. The Fairbanks Scale Company, which had extensive mining interests in the Upper Peninsula, undertook this challenging construction project in 1853.”

” In spite of adverse conditions, Fairbanks’ aggressive accountant, Charles T. Harvey, completed a system of two locks, in tandem, each 350 feet long, within the 2 year deadline set by the State of Michigan. On May 31, 1855, the locks were turned over to the state and designated as the State Lock.  The federal government took control of the property and the lock system in the 1870’s. Their stewardship continues today, administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Soo Locks are the busiest locks in the world, and include the largest lock in the Western Hemisphere, completed in 1968.”

The Soo Locks website offers a bit of interesting information.  “…Watching huge vessels pass through the Locks is a unique experience that cannot be seen anywhere else in the United States! The Locks consist of two canals and four locks that allow vessels of many types/sizes to safely traverse the 21-foot drop in elevation of the St. Mary’s River between Lake Superior and Lakes Michigan and Huron.”

“From viewing decks, you can watch “Lakers” and “Salties” (ocean-going vessels) as they travel the seaway between ports and navigate the rise/drop of the water levels. The Soo Locks Park Visitors Center, open from 9am – 9pm mid-May thru mid-October each year. We also have schedules of arriving vessels along with general information.”

This experience is unlike anything we have ever done.  We loved watching the boats go through the locks and the water rise and the boat rise with it!

Dining at the Lock View Restaurant

Sault Ste Marie
Best whitefish ever!

There are several dining choices.  A local recommended the Lock View restaurant for fresh fish!  We loved this diner.  The food was sooooooo good!  The Whitecap spread our was our choice, it was whitefish on crackers. The second time (we came back!) we had Fresh Local White Fish.  The fish was the best I think I’ve ever had.  I love fresh white fish.  It was wonderful!

The story of the restaurant is as good as the food.  The website shares, “A tradition was started of selling the freshest fish in the area. With a one floor restaurant which was less than half the size of the first floor today, the former owner and his dishwasher would walk over to the locks after breakfast and catch the fish to serve for lunch that day. In just two years, business had grown so much that he added on the front section, which views the locks today. Again in 1963 the upstairs was added as tourism increased at the Soo Locks.he trend continues today.”

“The Lockview receives fresh fish daily, but with the fences put in around the locks (about the time of the Korean War) and the tremendous amount of fish we require daily, we have to depend on the commercial fisherman on Lake Superior to keep us supplied. The commercial fisherman of this area are mostly of the Chippewa Tribe of Indians, the first settlers in the area. Their ancestors fished these rapids centuries ago, and were granted fishing rights on these waters in a treaty with the United States. ”

Sault Ste Marie
Random siting while dining.

I’m a sucker for a great neon sign and outside there is a great one.  Inside the décor is just nice and you have a view of the lock and dam visitors center and the Lake.  It is lovely.  One fun note, while we were there, a mascot or  a dragon or dinosaur walked by.  Totally random!

The International Bridge

Sault Ste Marie
International Bridge into Canada.

From this same spot, we could also view the beautiful International Bridge. This goes from the Michigan side of Sault Ste  Marie into Canada.

After spending the night in Michigan we crossed this bridge. The Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge is the only vehicular crossing between Ontario and Michigan within a 300-mile distance. The Bridge connects two cities, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario with Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  You can learn more about the bridge and see photos at

Once we passed through customs, we left the city.  We returned the same way when we re-entered the US.  We stopped once again at the same wonderful restaurant enjoying the beauty of Michigan’s oldest city!


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  1. Dave Davidson

    Hi Cindy:
    Enjoy your blog very much. Considering your travels through the midwest and great lakes states I am assuming you probably have a healthy interest in the history of the area.

    I would like to recommend a book that has thrilled me since I got hold of it. This book is no longer in print but you might be able to get it through library system or the used book channel which is where I came upon it.

    The author is Walter Havighurst and the title is: Land of Promise: The Story of the Northwest Territory. It was published in 1946 by The MacMillan Co, New York. This was before ISBN numbers of course. This book brought the history of much of the area you report on to life for me. It is also timeless information so it really does not feel out of date. It concentrates its story on the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. However the book knits together the national history and events that have to do with the early exploration of the area all the way up through its development as individual states. Along with being good history the author is a great story teller and has brought to my attention whole areas of history and knowledge I was completely unaware of. This could be a valuable addition to your library if you do not already have it
    Thanks for your great articles and recounting your adventures on the road uncovering all the gems in this area
    Cheers, David Davidson

    1. Cindy

      Thanks you for your kind words Dave! I think this book sure sounds like something worth looking for. I do love history of the Midwest and beyond and I am amazed when I find out all that happened on the soil in our states and the waterways we often only think about as a place for recreation!