Saturday, September 7, 2013 Sault Ste Marie, MI
The Soo Locks grabbed our attention early and long. We took the two hour 10 AM locks tour by boat and had a fascinating tour of the locks and the St. Mary’s River.
For those of you needing a quick geography refresher, Lake Superior is connected to the other four Great Lakes by means of the St. Mary’s River. The St. Mary’s River has a long rapids at Sault Ste Marie and there is a 21 foot drop in elevation in the river. Chippewa Indians used to portage around the rapids.
European settlement came early to the region. Several early European visitors are important to Minnesota also. Henry Schoolcraft, Father Jacque Marguette, and Jean Nicollet all came here first. As the area developed, the need for locks became evident and the first ones were constructed in the late 1700s.
The harvesting of lumber and the mining of copper (MI) and iron ore (MI and MN) necessitated the need for improved locks. 90% of the iron ore used to manufacture guns and equipment during WWII came through the locks. Over 7000 troops guarded the locks during WWII due to its strategic importance and fears of German bombing.
Today there are five locks in the area; two large locks capable of handling 1000 foot long freighters, one closed lock and one lightly used lock on the U.S. side. One Canadian lock is used primarily for pleasure boats.
So our tour combined historical, geological, maritime and engineering facts as we viewed freighters coming through the locks, as we viewed a steel manufacturing plant in Ontario,
and as we viewed the workings of the locks as we went through them ourselves.
While many ships use the locks, there is no guarantee that ones will come through during your tour. We were fortunate to spot two during the tour.
Our lunch break took us to Antlers restaurant, a local “have to see it” place whose food was okay. You come here for the ambience. Over 300 mounted heads (of animals) are on the walls. If a person is there for a special occasion, then they go all out and play numerous bells and whistles, warning the patrons first about the loud noise coming up.
We went back to the Corps of Engineers Visitors Center and viewing overlook after lunch. We toured the exhibits and then watched two more ships come through the locks. The ships move no faster than a person walking when they pass through. The ships we saw were in the 750′ length range. The locks can handle 1000 footers. There is only a few feet of clearance on each side. One of the ships was named the “Honorable James Oberstar”. Oberstar was a long time Congressman from the Iron Range of Minnesota and headed the U.S. House Committee on Transportation.
There are certainly more facts we learned and more we could tell but your interest may not be as great as ours was.
Church and dinner wrapped up the day. The church is the third oldest Catholic parish in the United States after St. Augustine Florida and Santa Fe New Mexico, both places we have visited this year.
We drove around Sault Ste Marie for a while. You will not see any pictures. Not much to write home about.
Dinner was at a local spot recommended by our hotel owner. It appeared a little sketchy on the outside but provided cheap, decent food.
Ed and Chris Sunday September 8 11:30 pm