Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sault St. Marie and The Locks

As a child, I remember my dad telling us kids that his father was born in Sault St. Marie, but because his birth certificate was hand written in French, they didn't know if it was the Canadian side or American side. When I started doing family research, I found that Grandfather wasn't born in Sault St. Marie. Now I have the question about how Sault St. Marie fits in with the family story. Another mystery for another day....

Today's story involves our day trip to said city, mainly to see and experience the Soo Locks. Wow, what an adventure! I'm really glad Jim suggested we take a lock tour boat to experience this amazing engineering feat directly. Yes, it cost a little bit - $42 for the two of us, but it was definitely worth it to experience the locks. I vaguely remember learning about locks in school, but had never seen any in person until today, and couldn't remember exactly how they work.

The Soo Locks were constructed to overcome the topography between the higher Lake Superior and Lake Huron, which is about a 21' drop over St. Mary's Rapids. There are 4 locks on the American side, and two of them, the Poe and the McArthur, are in operation at this time.

This picture shows the closed gates as we approach the McArthur Lock on the left. You can also see the international bridge in the background:

In the picture below, the gate has opened and we are progressing into the lock. You can see the staircase on the left, leading to a viewing area at the top of the stairs. We entered the lock and the gates closed behind us. The valves opened and the lock began filling with Lake Superior water. When it was filled and we were sitting at the same level as Lake Superior, the gates in front of us opened and we proceeded up the St. Mary's river.

Our tour took us up river a few miles and around to the Canadian side, where we watched the freighter, Michipicoten, being unloaded at the Essar Steel Algoma, the largest employer in Canadian Sault St. Marie.

As we approached the Canadian Locks on our return, we passed the administration building on the Canadian side:

The gates to the lock have opened, and we're now in the lock. Behind us, the gates are closing. Notice the impatient guy on the bike? He started across the gate before it was closed, I guess he was in a very big hurry!

Going east through the locks, they let the water out, and the boat was lowered until it had gone down to the Lake Huron level. The gates in front of the boat open, and away we went.

After we'd gone up river through the American Locks and come back down through the Canadian Lock, we continued down river for a ways, getting information about both the Canadian Sault St. Marie as well as the American town. One the way back to the dock, we passed the longest horizontal power plant in the world, Edison Sault. The building is over a quarter of a mile long. It is a hydro plant, using the diverted water from the St. Mary's river to run the turbines. The building is constructed from the rock taken out of the canal. There are several of these lighthouse figures on the front siding of the building.

We disembarked the little tour boat and headed into the gift shop for a little shopping. Gee, I didn't find any jewelry! Oh well, tomorrow's another day I can shop!

We found a restaurant downtown, the Lock View. (Sassy, we did see the Antlers, but not until after we'd eaten! Maybe next time.)

As we were finishing our delicious Whitefish, we noticed a freighter heading into the Locks. We watched from our table as the gigantic ship maneuvered into place and came to a stop. As we continued to watch, we could see the ship "sinking" as the water was let out of the lock. We settled up with the restaurant and headed over to the park to watch. We climbed the stairs to the observation deck and saw the ship as it waited for the water to finish draining. If you look closely under the yellow equipment on deck, you might be able to see the worker kneeling underneath, checking something. That will give you a size perspective.

The gates have opened and the Canadian Ranger of Toronto is moving on through the lock. That was fun to watch!

It was about time for us to head home. We had an absolute blast today, what an experience!

Can we top that tomorrow as we take the ferry over to Mackinac Island? Stay tuned! Now I need to go watch the movie, "Somewhere In Time"!


Karon said...

Wow, your description made me feel like I was along with you. What a day. I hear Mackinac Island is something to see. Can't wait to read about it.

Love you and miss you!

Sassy said...

Wow, Thanks for letting me know that the Antlers is still there! We were last there in 1973! By the way Mackinac Island is really something, and I love the movie "Somewhere in Time" Thanks again,

Sandra said...

Cool, Ellie, Locks are neat. There are about 45 of them in the Trent Severn system where we are right now, two of then are lift locks which are really neat to watch.

Bob and Molly said...

Terrific tour of the locks, Ellie! Great photos too!
Can't wait to hear about Mackinac Island!
Molly and Bob

Mark and Dortha said...

Wow! I am so glad you took me on the tour. We were there but only observed. I didn't even know there was a tour. Guess that means we just have to go back.