Below the towering trees of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. is a bounty of fascinating tales that describe the region's journey to becoming a hub of culture, outdoor adventure and commerce. In partnership with Ontario Tourism and Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, we share this fascinating tale and uncover the history of one of Ontario's most hidden gems.
A Gathering Place
The story begins with the area's first inhabitants, the Ojibwa. During whitefish season, "Baawitigong" or "place of the rapids," as the region was called, served as a gathering place for the local Indigenous people. The area along Saint Marys River, between Lakes Huron and Superior, was of vital importance for that reason and is recognized as one of the oldest settlements in Canada.
French explorer Étienne Brûlé is believed to be the first European explorer to set foot in Sault Ste. Marie, an archaic French name that translates to Saint Marys Falls -- a reference to the fast rapids of the Saint Marys River. The name stuck, as the region increased its output of fur in the heyday of the fur trade.
An Industrial Hub And Engineering Marvel
Fast forward to 1894, when American Francis Hector Clergue, came to the Soo to build it up by establishing local industries. Along with pulp and paper mills, a steel mill, railroad, and a nickel mine, he pushed to create a hydroelectric facility. Clergue's business savvy and the introduction of a lock in 1894 fueled further development. The lock (an engineering system that enabled boats to be raised or lowered 29 feet) was not just a technological masterpiece -- it was the longest and the most advanced in the world. It continues to put Sault Ste. Marie on the map today. The Sault Ste. Marie Canal, a Parks Canada National Historic Site, is a major attraction, drawing visitors worldwide who marvel at this feat of engineering.
A Glimpse Into The Past
History is much more than just the past in Sault Ste. Marie. It's part of the living tapestry of the town incorporated in 1887, then as a city in 1911.
For a glimpse into the past, roam the exhibits of the Sault Ste. Marie Museum, located downtown in a magnificent historic building that opened in 1912 as the city's first post office. It chronicles The Soo's evolution from fur trade hub to an industrial power player and showcases the notable men and women who helped make it happen.
For history of a different sort, enjoy a look at memorabilia related to beer at the Brewery Museum of the Northern Superior Brewing Company, or see how aviation impacted Northern Ontario at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, where aerial water bombing was invented.
Storytelling creates a vivid picture of this scenic region of Ontario aboard the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, one of the most popular train tours in North America. Passengers take their seats in specially designed coaches with large windows providing perfect views of the stunning natural landscapes that have captivated so many throughout the centuries, from the Ojibwa to the Group of Seven painters. GPS triggered commentary (in six languages) throughout the one-day, 114 mile-long wilderness excursion brings stories of the past and present to life. Like Sault Ste. Marie itself, this is a bucket-list-worthy experience.
The towering trees, the tranquil water and the spectacular history of Sault Ste. Marie converge to make this a must-see destination. Book your Agawa Canyon Tour Train summer getaway and experience this unique corner of Ontario. Learn more here.