THE LOCKS AT SAULT STE. MARIE
Watching the huge vessels pass through the Soo locks is a unique experience that cannot be seen anywhere else in the United States. There are locks in the 26 mile Welland Canal, built to bypass Niagara Falls, but the maximum size vessel is 740' long and 78' wide. The locks at the Soo will hold the huge 1000' freighters used on the Great Lakes.
You can watch the "Lakers" and the "Salties"(ocean-going vessels) as they travel the seaway between ports and see them rise or drop the 21 feet between the levels of the St. Mary's River. There is an upper viewing area so you are able to look down on the vessels as they lock through or stand almost close enough to touch them.
The Visitors Center has a schedule of arriving vessels and general information such as size, cargo, destination, etc. There are also TV's so you can watch the vessels as they approach the locks from the St. Mary's River. Within the Visitors Center are charts, maps, artifacts, photographs, a working model of the locks, and a film presentation. The Visitors Center is open from 7am to 11pm. mid May to November.
The locks operate most of the year, but are closed from Jan 15 to March 25 for maintenance. The locks are closed for longer periods if the weather is severe.
The Poe and the MacArthur Locks are in use at this time. The MacArthur is the lock closest to the viewing area and will handle vessels up to 800 feet long, 80 feet wide and 31 feet deep.
The big 1000' Lakers need to use the second lock (The Poe) that is 1200' long, 110' wide and 32 feet deep, but you can still get close enough for a really good view. The MacArthur Lock was built in 1943 and the Poe Lock was built in 1968. The two other locks, Davis and Sabin are closed.
The Davis Lock was built in 1918 and the Sabin Lock was built in 1919. Both these locks are too shallow (only 23 feet deep). A new and even bigger lock is planned which would take up the space now used by the Davis and the Sabin, but funding has not yet been made available.
Cargo carried by some of the vessels might include
iron ore (usually taconite pellets) limestone, coal,
grain, cement, salt or sand. The huge freighter in
the picture is a self-unloader carrying taconite pellets
to Cleveland, Lorain, Chicago, Gary, Burns
Many different types of vessels pass through the
locks each year, from small passenger boats to the
huge vessels carrying over 72,000 tons in cargo. Approximately
5,000 boats use the locks yearly. The number of boats
using the canal has decreased as the size of the boats
The first European settlement was established by early French fur traders. Known to them as Sault du Gastogne, it was changed in 1688 by the Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette to Sault Ste. Marie, in honor of the Virgin Mary. There is debate about what the name translated to, but French speakers say "Sault" means "to jump", making Sault Ste. Marie the place where people would come to "jump the St. Mary's".
In the mid 1700's the French and British often fought over the area. In most cases the fights were about British trade with the Indians. Both of these countries flew their respective flags. In 1820, the Treaty of the Sault turned control of the area over to the United States. America, concerned about a Canadian invasion, built Fort Brady on the site of the old French fort. In the 1890's Fort Brady was abandoned for the second time and moved to Mr. Ryan's Hill, the sight that is famous today for being the home of the Lake Superior State University.
The St. Mary's River is the only water connection between Lake Superior and the Great Lakes. However, there is a section of the river known as the St. Mary's Rapids where the water falls about 21 feet from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower lakes. The natural barrier made it necessary for the construction of the Sault Locks, a project known as the St. Mary's Falls Canal. The first lock was built in 1797, on the Canadian side, but was destroyed in the War of 1812. The United States built its first lock in 1855. Today there are 4 locks in use, continuously being visited by ships and tourists alike. You can actually experience the thrill of "locking through" on our Soo Locks sightseeing tours.
Experience Locking Through
the Soo Locks
Our fleet of five tour boats are U.S. Coast Guard inspected and operate with a US Coast Guard certified Captain, Senior Deckhand, and Deckhand. All vessels have enclosed climate controlled lower decks with restrooms, snack bars, and covered open upper decks. Box lunches are available with two hours advance notice.
This is an excellent for a must see while here in
the Upper Peninsula. You can access a website for
more information at:
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