To understand The Soo, it is necessary to understand the geography and history of the area.
Named by the French as Sault Ste. Marie, with Sault meaning "jump" as the waters rushing over the rapids was described as jumping. Sault is pronounced "soo," so the shortened version of the name has become common in use. The large American locks are officially known as The Soo Locks.
The above Google Map shows the relationship of three of the Great Lakes. Lake Michigan is west and South of the Mackinac Straits and Mackinaw City (different spellings, same pronunciation in a naming battle between the French and British).
Lake Huron is east and south of the Mackinac Straits. The bay to the north, between Meldrum Bay, Gore Bay, and Blind River is known as the North Channel.
Lake Superior is west and north of Sault Ste. Marie.
Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and the North Channel are all interconnected and are at the same elevation. Lake Superior is 23 feet higher in elevation, held to the higher level by a ridge of rock creating the rapids at Sault Ste. Marie.
Because of its geography, The Soo has been an important part of life of its people for many thousands of years, with Native Americans and First Nations People trading, traveling, and fishing at this point.
Zooming in a bit the St. Marys River, which runs 74 miles from the bottom of Whitefish Bay, in Lake Superior, to De Tour Village - Dummond Island area on Lake Huron, can be seen. In more recent history, the river has been designated as the border between the United States and Canada.
The discussions of drawing this border must have been interesting as the St. Marys River has two branches and different ones were used for the dividing on the lands. Just downstream of Sault Ste. Marie, the line follows the western branch placing Sugar Island in the US. The farther downstream the line moves to the eastern branch placing St. Joseph Island in Canada and tiny Lime Island in the US. Logically, the line should follow the river through De Tour Passage and into Lake Huron. Instead it turns north cutting out Drummond Island as part of the US.
Two cities have developed at The Soo - Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. The above image was taken from the Canadian side of the river looking at the Michigan city. The two cities are only 1/2 mile apart, the width of the river.
This Canada Steamship is tied to the lock wall at the American Locks. It is awaiting another ship to be locked down, which will pass closely by between the Canada ship and the town. The four American locks, only operating two at a time now, raise and lower the ships the 23 feet needed to transition to and from Lake Superior.
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, is the smaller of the two cities and retains some of its history in its architecture - the Chipawa County Courthouse being one.
The Methodist Church is another example of the architecture of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, in its founding and growing stages. It was built in 1893 of stone removed in the building of the American Locks. This stone was known at the time as "canal rubble."
While visiting Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Last Dance stayed at the George Kemp Marina. A permanent resident there is the black-hulled ship, the Valley Camp, which is now a museum of the shipping industry. On the outer dock, the cruise ship Pearl Mist is moored, which had just made the 1/2 mile trip from Sault Ste. Marie, Canada. SSM, Canada can be seen on the other side of the river. The customs agents stay busy here.
The other Great Lakes cruise ship, Victory 1, steamed by the George Kemp Marina after leaving the American Locks. Its itinerary included a stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, then a short trip up the American Locks to stick its bow into Lake Superior, then turn around and lock back down.
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, is quite proud of their native daughter, Dr. Roberta Bondar. A large waterfront park, with an amphitheater and the marina have been named in her honor. She was the first female Canadian astronaut and flew on the United States Shuttle Discovery. Learning history in a park.
Leaving the lock, continuing up the St. Marys River, boats pass under the International Bridge, the connector of the two counties by land vehicles. There are two railroad bridges on the right, in the opened swing position. The nicely red painted bridge is abandoned, serving as part of the history in the Canal Park. The farther, rusty one is still in use - interesting priorities.
The Soo. Two cities with the same name, in two countries, speaking the same language, divided by politics, only a half mile apart across a river. Endless comparisons could be made, but these few observations will suffice for this post.