Drone image of the Sault lock and St. Mary's River Photo courtesy of City of Sault Ste. Marie

Sault Ste. Marie

Sault Ste. Marie, known as Bawating, “The Place of the Rapids” by the Ojibwe people, and later by French colonists as “St. Mary’s Falls” has a deep connection to the surrounding waters. This city is deeply connected to its waters, with much of it built along the historic St. Mary’s Riverfront. Explore the Downtown Core and Cultural Corridor, where you’ll find galleries, museums, historic sites, public art, local shops, and markets.

In the Canal District, dine at the Machine Shop, or head to the Soo Locks and Whitefish Island, where two of the five Great Lakes converge, forming a natural highway that connects the south to the “far north.” If outdoor exploration is your thing, just pick a direction and you’ll find yourself on one of countless adventures.

Downtown Core

Art Gallery of Algoma
Stroll Through Art

Founded in 1975, the Art Gallery of Algoma has studios, a cafe, and four exhibition spaces. Their collection of nearly 5000 works has a rigorous Indigenous art collection, including work from John Laford and Norval Morrisseau. The gallery also has a large selection from the Group of Seven and Dr. Roberta Bondar. Conveniently located right outside the door to the Art Gallery of Algoma is the Elsie Savoie Sculpture Park, home to a number of important and eclectic works. Spot an arch composed of leaping dolphins or a totem pole fashioned out of used car parts.

Queens Tart
Shopping & Dining in the Downtown Core

Walk over to Queen Street where you will find local shops dedicated to the creative arts like Camera Craft, Paint & Decor Concepts with its clay studio, and The Art Hub on Spring. Nearby you can find local restaurants that provide an array of dining experiences; Tandoori Garden, Ojas, or Stack Burger.  But, if you are looking for something lighter stop by Queens Tart for an award winning butter tart or JCC Sugar for a sweet treat.

Downtown Plaza and Soo Market

Near the heart of downtown is the newly opened Downtown Plaza and Soo Market, where you can find local produce and products, artisanal craft goods, and food vendors. Take in large scale wall murals from the Downtown Community Mural Project and public art displays that are scattered throughout the downtown area, such as the Paul Mall Alley Display.

The Cultural Corridor

Sault Museum
History in the Soo

Head over to the Sault Ste. Marie Museum, which is located in an old Edwardian post office. The museum chronicles the history of the Soo, from when the ancestors of the Ojibwe people first walked along its shores, through to French and British colonization, and into the present day. The museum’s three floors are full of galleries, displays, and vignettes, including the Walter Wallace Military Gallery, the Sports Hall of Fame, and the Discover Gallery where kids can get hands on.

Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site. Photo by Kyrstiana Bourdage.
Step Back in Time at The Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site and the Heritage Discovery Centre

A slice of 19th century life awaits you at the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site. Here you’ll find some of the oldest stone buildings in Ontario, which were built for notable fur trader Charles Oakes Ermatinger, and later housed the American industrialist Francis Hector Clergue. Both Ermantinger and Clergue were instrumental in building up industry and infrastructure in the area, allowing the Soo to grow into the commercial hub that it is today. Stroll through the historic chambers of the Old Stone House and the Blockhouse, or wander its gardens, where period-specific produce and flowers are grown. You can visit the nearby Heritage Discovery Centre to take an interactive tour of 19th century Sault Ste. Marie.

Bushplane Museum. Photo credit Kyrstiana Bourdage
Soar at the Bushplane Museum

For your next stop, find your wings at the Bushplane Museum!! In Ontario’s northern reaches, the bush plane is vital, enabling shipping and transportation across vast distances. At the Bushplane Museum, take in dozens of planes from across decades. Relax in the theatre and learn about battling forest fires in Ontario, from the air and on the ground, or hop in the Flight Adventure Simulator and experience the unique aerial views of Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma.

The Canal District

Sault Locks & Whitefish Island
Lock Tours and Hub Trail

At the Canal National Historic Site you can watch ships cruise by and learn about the history of the locks – on land or aboard the Miss Marie Soo Lock Tour. Sault Ste. Marie is a city with a view, so put on a comfortable pair of walking shoes or grab a bike, and head down the Hub Trail. The trail circumvents the entire city, including a wonderful portion running along the waterfront. It’s a great way to see the river and its American sister city of the same name, Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, across the water.

Andre Carrotflower, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Explore White Fish Island

Just across the canal is White Fish Island, a popular spot for a leisurely stroll or a beautiful sunset walk.  Here, you can take a self-guided, 2-hour tour to learn about Indigenous heritage and culture. This has always been a place of importance for the Ojibway: Elders from Batchawana share that when the Creator told the crane to choose a homeland, he flew in search of it and settled in Bawating. Currently a gathering place for the Three Fires Confederacy between the Ojibway, Potawatomi, and Odawa Peoples. While you’re there, look out for the interpretive signs to learn more of this history!

Machine Shop and Agawa Train Tours
Vist, Eat, and Shop at the Historic Machine Shop and Nearby Algoma Conservatory

After your time on the St. Mary’s River, it’s time to head over to the Machine Shop. The building hosts several restaurants such as the upscale Mill Steakhouse, the laid-back Boiler Room and Steamfitters Lounge, and – for a sweet treat – the Gelato Mill. Across the parking lot is the Mill-Owned Train Station where you’ll find the departure point of the Agawa Train Tour. The Train  Station also has its own restaurant, Blockhouse Pub and the SSM Outfitters, for all your adventure needs.

Right next to the Machine shop is the Algoma Conservatory of Music, a non-profit, charitable organization housed within a heritage building that works on the development of the musical arts within the Algoma Region. On the very top floor you will find The Loft, which hosts performances, concerts, and provides a space for artists to record their music.

The Eastend

Bellevue Park Greenhouse
Bellevue Park and Greenhouse

Turn your gaze to natural delights at Bellevue Park, which has an abundance of flora and fauna to explore, as well as a greenhouse full of decorative blooms.  If you want to get a little closer to the water, walk across the small land bridge to Topsail Island and check out its miniature beach.

Algoma University & Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig
Shingwauk Residential School Centre and Algoma University

A bit further east you will find the Bishop Fauqier Memorial Chapel and the neighboring Shingwauk Centre. The Gothic- and Tudor-style chapel (constructed between 1881 and 1883) is named after the first Anglican Bishop of Algoma, and was built to service the Shingwauk Residential School, which ran until 1970. Algoma University then took over the site of the residential school and over time has worked to research, document and share the history of the residential school program. You can go for a tour at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, visit the archives, and cross the road to explore the Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig.

Outdoor Adventure

Crystal Falls. Photo by Fungus Guy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Year Round Adventure

Looking to explore a little further afield? Sault Ste. Marie is a major hub for outdoor exploration, and with a twin sister city across the river, there’s plenty to do if you’re looking to extend your northern adventure. 

Within the city limits you can walk or bike along the Hub Trail through the 191 acres of the Fort Creek Conservatory. Just north, in the Hiawatha Highlands you can find Kinsmen Park and the head trail for Crystal Falls. Nearby take a tour of Mockingbird Farm, a functional homestead that is open to the public. To the west, head towards Point-du-Chene and Gros Cap Bluffs, along the way stop by Thompson Farms, a seasonal winery and u-pick strawberry farm.

If your trip happens to be in the winter, bundle up and explore the ice caves just north of Sault Ste. Marie near Batchawana Bay. 

Outside the City Limits

Agawa Rock Pictographs. Photo Giorgio Galeotti, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Stop at the Trading Post, Explore Agawa Rock Pictographs and Plan an Adventure

On your way out of town be sure to stop by the Trading Post, which is the home to various shops and restaurants and a staple of a journey further north.

Head towards the famed Agawa Rock Pictographs are located to the far north of Sault Ste. Marie. These ancient trails house some of the oldest Indigenous art in the country.

If you’re hoping to connect to nature, take a guided adventure by canoeing, kayaking, hiking, or snowshoeing. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced, Thrive Tours has half and full–day excursions for anyone looking to enjoy nature or learn to kayak.

If you are headed east out of town, detour through Garden River First Nation along Old Highway 17 to capture an image of the roadside train bridge with the iconic words ‘This is Indian Land.’

Your trip at a glance

This guide represents a weekend-long experience, highlighting one of the many wonderful destinations in the area. To suggest a destination for a future guide, please CONTACT US.

All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. This guide was written by Li Robbins.