Ontario is currently under a stay-at-home order, but you may explore digitally. More information on COVID-19 and details on the stay-at-home order are available here.
Sault Ste. Marie is a city forever linked to its river. The Ojibwe people named the river and its environs “Bawating,” or the “place of the rapids.” When French colonists first arrived in the early 17th century, they too were impressed by the surging waters, naming the area “Saults de Sainte-Marie”, or “St. Mary’s Falls.” With ample fishing, and a natural highway into the Great Lakes, it’s no surprise that the city has thrived.
GET STARTED AT THE LIBRARY – 10:00 AM
DAY 1 – 10:00 AM: LEARN A LITTLE AT THE SAULT STE. MARIE PUBLIC LIBRARY.
Your journey through the Soo begins at the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library. Located near the waterfront and in close proximity to many other must-see sites, it’s a key part of the city’s cultural hub.
History buffs will appreciate the Sault Ste. Marie Archives, which are accessible through the library. With access to a copious collection of documents, photos, and newspaper clippings, you can engross yourself in tales of Sault Ste Marie’s past. There’s also a catalogue of Oral Histories produced with Living History Algoma, featuring interviews with local citizens.
Tinkerers can make their ideas material at the Northern THINK Hub, which is the Soo’s very own makerspace. This kid-friendly space is set up to teach the principles of design, science, and engineering in a fun and interactive way.
Once you’re all done among the stacks, you can take the scenic route and still make it to your next stop in good time.
STROLL THE SCULPTURE PARK & ART GALLERY OF ALGOMA – 11:00 AM
DAY 1 – 11:00 AM: EXPLORE THE ELSIE SAVOIE SCULPTURE GARDEN & THE ART GALLERY OF ALGOMA
Named for a devoted volunteer and early supporter of the Art Gallery of Algoma, the Elsie Savoie Sculpture Park is home to a number of works depicting everything from curious geometric forms to an arch composed of leaping dolphins to a totem pole fashioned from used car parts. Many of the pieces, several of which are done in metal, almost appear to compliment or critique the nearby Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge. The sculpture park is also conveniently located right next to the Art Gallery of Algoma.
Founded in 1975, the gallery features studios, a cafe, and four exhibition spaces. The gallery’s collection of roughly 5000 works of art covers a number of media, and in particular, has a large selection of pieces by the Group of Seven and Dr. Roberta Bondar. For anyone looking to brush up on their creative skills, the gallery also holds a number of classes and workshops throughout the year.
Once you’re done taking in the art, make sure to take a break and enjoy the fine culinary fare on offer along nearby Queen Street. Word on the street is the Tandoori Garden has the best curry in town.
TAKE IN THE HISTORY OF THE SOO – 1:30 PM
DAY 1 – 1:30 PM: GET TO KNOW THE CITY AT THE SAULT STE. MARIE MUSEUM.
After enjoying your lunch break, head over to the Sault Ste. Marie Museum. Located in the old Edwardian post office, the museum chronicles the history of the Soo from when the ancestors of the Ojibwe first walked along its shores, through French and British colonization, to the present day.
The three floors of the museum are jam-packed with galleries, displays and vignettes documenting the Soo’s storied past. The first floor contains the Walter Wallace Military Gallery, exploring Sault Ste. Marie’s involvement in conflicts from the Seven Years War to the wars of the 21st century. The second floor is split between the Skylight Gallery, which is a visual timeline of the Soo’s History, and the Discover Gallery, where kids can get hands on while learning about history. The final floor is split between a Sports Hall of Fame, and a Marine Gallery, which chronicles the city’s intimate relationship with Saint Mary’s River and Lake Superior.
TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE – 4:00 PM
DAY 1 – 4:00 PM: WIND DOWN THE DAY WITH A TRIP ALONG THE HUB TRAIL.
Sault Ste. Marie is a city with a view, and the best way to enjoy that view is to put on a comfy pair of shoes, maybe grab a bike, and head down the Hub Trail. It’s a great way to see the river and its American sister city, Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, across the water. If you’re keen to take a more casual route, then the boardwalk also offers a fantastic view as well as a few spots to stop and watch the river.
Either way, you’ll eventually wind your way to the Canal National Historic Site, where you can learn about the history of the lochs, and watch ships cruise by on the water. You can also keep hiking, and enjoy the trails which stretch out and over the water.
WALK THROUGH HISTORIC ROOMS – 10:00 AM
DAY 2 – 10:00 AM: TOUR THE ERMATINGER CLERGUE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE & OLD STONE HOUSE
Rise and shine, because a slice of 19th century life awaits at the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site & Old Stone House. The Ermatinger Old Stone House and the Clergue Blockhouse are some of the oldest stone buildings in Ontario, and were built for a notable fur trader by the name of Charles Oakes Ermatinger, and would later house the American industrialist Francis Hector Clergue. Both Ermantinger and Clergue helped build up industry and infrastructure in the area, allowing what was a small trading post to grow into an industrialized city and a major commercial hub in Ontario’s northern reaches.
You can stroll through the historic chambers of the Old Stone House and the Blockhouse, or wander the gardens where period-specific produce and floral arrangements are grown. You can also visit the nearby Heritage Discovery Centre where you can take an interactive tour through the 19th century history of the Soo.
SOAR AT THE BUSHPLANE CENTRE – 12:00 PM
DAY 2 – 12:00 PM: GET YOUR WINGS AT THE CANADIAN BUSHPLANE HERITAGE CENTRE
There’s something charming about niche museums. For every hobby, trade, and collectable, there’s probably a museum dedicated to it, and the same goes for the wonderful world of bushplanes. In Ontario’s northern reaches, the bushplane is king, providing shipping and transportation across the vast distances between communities.
At the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, you can walk around and take in a collection of dozens of bushplanes from across the decades. You can relax in the in-built theatre and watch a documentary about the life of a bushplane pilot, or hop into the flight simulator and take a virtual spin at being a bushplane pilot.
EXPLORE THE SOO’S HISTORIC CORNERS – 2:00 PM
DAY 2 – 2:00 PM: EXPLORE THE SOO’S HISTORIC NEIGHBOURHOODS
East of the downtown core you’ll find a handful of blocks that contain some of Sault Ste. Marie’s most charming homes, storefronts, and even hotels, many of them from the late 19th century onward. You can wander the streets, finding lovingly-preserved and restored examples of Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian architecture on every block. It’s a great way to stretch your legs and enjoy the view as you head east towards your next destination.
STOP AND SMELL THE FLOWERS – 3:00 PM
DAY 2 – 3:00 PM: TAKE A STROLL THROUGH BELLEVUE PARK
After you’re done enjoying the charm of Sault Ste. Marie’s historic edifices, you can turn your gaze to its natural delights. Bellevue Park has a number of beautifully-arranged flora and fauna to see, as well as a greenhouse you can visit to see where the many floral arrangements which decorate the city are prepared. If you want to get a little closer to the water, you can head across the small land bridge which will take you out to Topsail Island. It’s a great little spot to walk around, stop at its miniature beach, or enjoy the view of the nearby marina.
VISIT THE OLD CHAPEL & THE SHINGWAUK CENTRE – 4:00 PM
DAY 2 – 4:00 PM: VISIT THE BISHOP FAUQUIER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, CEMETERY & SHINGWAUK CENTRE.
Last up on your journey through the Soo are the Bishop Fauqier Memorial Chapel and the neighboring Shingwauk Centre. Named for the first Anglican Bishop of Algoma, the chapel was built between 1881-1883 in a mix of Gothic and Tudor styles. The chapel was built to service the Shingwauk Residential School, which ran in one form or another until 1970.
The University of Algoma took over the site of the residential school and over the decades 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, or visit the archives to learn more about the survivors of the Residential system and what efforts have been made in pursuit of healing and reconciliation.
WANT TO TAKE A DETOUR?
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.
Located to the far north of Sault Ste. Marie, you can walk the ancient trails in search of some of the oldest Indigenous art in the country, the famed Pictographs of Agawa which overlook the lake.
Didn’t get enough of the Soo? Well, you can hop across St. Mary’s River and explore the American twin city and its many historical sites as well.
Public Art Tour
Sault Ste. Marie’s downtown core recently underwent a major revitalization, with great efforts made to beautify its commercial centre through murals, sculpture, and other installations of public art. Walk down Queen St to check out the many boutique shops and restaurants and get your daily dose of art while you’re at it. Insider tip: The Queen’s Tarts is well-known for their butter tarts. Mmm!
YOUR TRIP AT A GLANCE
Sault Ste. Marie Hub Trail & Boardwalk
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. The guide was written by Kevin Valbonesi.