Most Canadians have probably heard of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (first word pronounced “Soo”), perhaps for being the third largest city in northern Ontario or as the hometown of astronaut Roberta Bondar.
But they might not know about its American twin city in Michigan, just across the border from the Soo in Canada, separated only by the St. Mary’s River.
Unlike most Canadian-American comparisons, the U.S. version is much smaller, with a population of about 14,000, compared to the Ontario Soo’s 75,000 residents. Despite its size, Michigan’s Soo is worth visiting, especially for nearby Canadians or anyone fascinated by the Great Lakes. Here’s what to do in the Soo:
The Museum Ship Valley Camp
On the shores of the Soo, visitors can explore the insides of a retired freighter, called The Museum Ship Valley Camp, which was built in 1917 and retired in 1966. The insides of the freighter, including crews’ quarters, can still be viewed . The ship also holds Great Lakes exhibits, such as one on the Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck, which killed all 29 crewmembers. Aquariums display fish from the Great Lakes region.
The Soo locks
Ships travelling between Lake Superior and Lake Huron navigate the 6.4m-drop (or jump) between lakes. The Soo locks form a passage for boats around the rapids of the St. Mary’s River, which connects Lake Superior to the other Great Lakes. Non-boaters can get an up-close look from a Soo Locks Boat Tours trip or from Michigan’s Soo Locks park, which has an observation platform to see the locks, devices that have lifted and lowered boats to water level there for about 160 years, enabling an important shipping connection.
International Bridge Walk
Once a year people can walk across the bridge that joins the Ontario and Michigan Soos. The walk occurs over “Engineers Weekend,” or the last weekend in June. During the walk people can see both Soos, the St. Mary’s River rapids and the locks from above.
Water Street Historic Block
From Engineers Weekend to Labour Day, Water Street’s historic homes open up for visitors. The homes, including those that belonged to one of the first European settlers and the first Indian Agent in the area, show how early residents would have lived.
The Tower of History
The best place in Michigan to see the Ontario Soo from is the 64-metre Tower of History, which rises above the city and provides panoramic views of both the Canadian and American sides. The tower was built in 1968 by the Catholic Church as the Shrine of the Missionaries. But the project was cut and the building was sold to Sault Historic Sites in 1980.
If you’re hungry after exploring, head to Karl’s Cuisine, where you can have a tasty meal and enjoy a view of the Soo locks from the rooftop or inside. The restaurant serves pasties – a favorite in Michigan’s upper peninsula – and more meals made from in-season and local ingredients.