Sault Ste. Marie and the Surrounding Area

Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: September 2021

Sault Ste. Marie is located on the St. Mary’s River in the heart of the Great Lakes near Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. It is commonly referred to as “the Soo” and is one of the oldest European settlements in Canada. The Algoma Central Railway operates between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst and is known for its Agawa Canyon train tour, which played an important role for the Group of Seven painters.

We ended up ditching our campsite at Lake Superior Provincial Park for a motel in Sault Ste. Marie to avoid the rain overnight and the next morning. Instead of gloomy weather, we woke up to blue skies and sun. We had a bit of a slow start in the morning and tensions were running high, which was bound to happen after spending nearly two weeks together non-stop. We didn’t have much planned in Sault Ste. Marie since it was an unexpected visit, but we did set off to find three Moments of Algoma art installations to learn more about the famous Group of Seven.

After struggling with navigation, we headed to the Algoma Central Railway where two of the installations are located. The Group of Seven utilized the railway to capture more of the rugged scenery in Northern Ontario. They used a spruced-up boxcar to live and work in these remote areas. The outfitted railcars were rented to hunters and fishermen as a way for the railway to entice visitors to the region.

One of the most famous landscape paintings produced in Canada was sketched at Mile 93 along the Algoma Central Railway by J.E.H. MacDonald, one of the founding members of the Group of Seven.

The Agawa Canyon train tour still runs, but unfortunately wasn’t open when we visited in mid-September.

We then went to check out the Sault Canal National Historic Site, since it’s located nearby. The Sault Ste. Marie Canal was built in 1895 and was once the world’s longest lock and the first to operate using electricity.

Besides viewing the lock and learning more about its history, there is also a series of hiking trails located across the lock gates on South St. Mary’s Island and a few historic buildings. Due to our slow start this morning, we skipped the hike.

We then stopped to check out the remaining Moments of Algoma sign by the Art Gallery of Algoma. The installation tells the story of when the Group of Seven first showcased their paintings as a group, they received some negative criticism, but not all the reviews were bad. Over time they produced many masterpieces of this Algoma landscape.

We hopped back in the car and started the drive towards Chutes Provincial Park to spend our last night on our Northern Ontario road trip. But before getting there, we needed to make a few more detours, including in Echo Bay to see the Loon Dollar Monument. Both the one dollar coin, which is more commonly referred to as the loonie, and this monument were designed by local artist Robert-Ralph Carmichael.

We then made one other detour at the Bruce Mines Marina for another Moments of Algoma installation. Tom Thomson first came to Algoma in 1912 with fellow artist William Broadhead. They spent almost two months paddling the Mississagi River. They lost their canoe, and most of Thomson’s paintings and pictures after a near tragic spill at the end of the Forty Mile Rapids. They hitched a ride on a hay wagon into Bruce Mines. While waiting to board a steamer to return to Owen Sound, a storm pummeled Bruce Mines, the aftermath of which inspired Thomson’s “View over a Lake with Houses”. Thompson’s trip through the Mississagi River helped set the stage for the Group of Seven’s later artistic success of Algoma.

We hopped back in the car and drove the rest of the way to Chutes to enjoy our last night of our vacation.


82 thoughts on “Sault Ste. Marie and the Surrounding Area

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      There are actually three giant coins in Ontario: the nickel, loonie and toonie. We’ve seen the nickel and toonie before, but this was our first time seeing the loonie. It was very shiny.

  1. Ab says:

    Sault Ste Marie was admittedly a motel stop for us and we didn’t get to explore too much of it.

    Your post made me note to myself to explore the area next time. The railway station and the historic buildings look very charming. And gotta love those giant coin photo stops! 😊

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The previous two times we visited Northern Ontario we just drove straight through Sault Ste. Marie. It was nice to finally check it out and go for a stroll around town. And yes, those giant coins are awesome. We’ve seen the nickel and toonie before, so it was great to finally complete the giant coin scavenger hunt by visiting the loonie.


    Love this Moments of Algoma scavenger hunt. I didn’t know about the Mississippi River incident. I wonder how many spills he had between this one and the final fatal one. Have you been to the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg? You will appreciate it even more after visiting these northern locations!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was fun to try to visit all the various Moments of Algoma signs along our road trip. It gave us a good excuse to visit a few areas that we otherwise would have just driven straight through or around. And yes, it makes you wonder why Tom Thompson kept canoeing even after capsizing in the Mississagi River. We have yet to visit the McMichael gallery, but it’s on our (neverending) list of things to see in Ontario. Someday.

  3. kagould17 says:

    We never had the time to really explore Sault Ste. Marie on our drive across Canada, which is a pity. A lot of history there to be sure. Still regret not seeing the Agawa Canyon area. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We weren’t planning on visiting Sault Ste. Marie, but we had some free time since we didn’t camp at Lake Superior the night before. It was nice to have a quiet morning and just stroll through town. It was a bummer that the Agawa Canyon train tour wasn’t running when we visited as I’ve heard great things about it. I have a feeling we’ll be back someday though. Thanks for reading. Linda

  4. Casey says:

    It’s so interesting to see the Canadian side of Sault Ste Marie. We visited the U.P. last summer but the border was closed. Thanks for sharing!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I find it hilarious that there are two towns right beside each other that are both named Sault Ste. Marie, except one is in Canada and the other is in the United States. Agreed, it would have been nice to visit them both, but the land borders were still closed when we visited too. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Linda

  5. John says:

    I would love to visit the locks at the Soo, Americans call it that too. I’ve seen the Loonie coin years ago, a nice looking coin. I wonder if that buoy was run aground by a storm and left there?

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I still can’t get over that there is a Canadian Sault Ste. Marie and American Sault Ste. Marie and that they are both located next to each other. Because that’s not confusing at all! There are actually three giant coins in Ontario and the loonie was the last one we needed to visit. Now we’ve seen them all. The buoy in the grass does seem misplaced. I don’t imagine it’s easy to move, so perhaps it did come to shore during a storm.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! We were a bit ahead of schedule since we left Lake Superior Provincial Park yesterday afternoon (instead of the next morning), so we figured we had time to explore around Sault Ste. Marie and check out the locks. You better believe we squeezed in a couple more hikes along the drive back home. It’s always a bit sad when our vacation comes to an end, but I was looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again.

  6. Dee Min says:

    Lovely!!! The canal reminded me of Panama —this one is on a smaller scale but nonetheless an engineering feat. Your posts are a good learning experience!!!!! Thanks for sharing

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was neat to read about the history of the Sault Ste. Marie canal and how it incorporated several engineering innovations. It’s incredible to think that it was once the longest lock in the world and the first to operate with electrical power. Canals and locks have come a long way since then, but it’s interesting to see how things were done back in the day. Thanks for reading. Linda

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Ever since we’ve visited Northern Ontario I’ve had a newfound appreciation of the Group of Seven. It’s been neat to explore some of the areas that they drew inspiration from, especially along the Lake Superior shoreline. The Moments of Algoma signs have been a fantastic way to highlight the connection of nature with Canadian art.

  7. CommonSenseTom says:

    On my 1961 Michigan to Minnesota family road trip, due to confusing U.P. road signage, we wound up briefly, erroneously heading N instead of W. I wish my dad hadn’t backtracked, for I never got to see “the Soo”, until now. Indeed, courtesy of your photographic artistry, it’s almost like I’m sightseeing thru your eyes. My kudos and thanks!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. It’s funny because I’ve driven through Sault Ste. Marie a few times, but have never actually stopped to check it out. I’m glad we had some free time in the morning to wander around town and see some of the local attractions. It was also neat to learn more about the town’s connection with the Group of Seven painters.

  8. Little Miss Traveller says:

    Great to see more installations by the Group if Seven and I never knew why the coin was called the Loonie so thanks for filling me in. I adored the appearance of the railway station, so beautiful Linda.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s been fun to visit the various Moments of Algoma easels and learn more about the Group of Seven. It’s given me a newfound appreciation of Canadian art. The Algoma Central Railway looked very charming. It’s too bad the train tour to Agawa Canyon wasn’t running as we’ve heard the scenery along the way is beautiful.

  9. Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

    Thanks so much for your very informative post about the Group of Seven. I love their work in general but my favourite is Lawren Harris. I find their paintings so visually stimulating but also restful.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The Moments of Algoma signs are such a wonderful idea to connect nature with art. It’s been fun visiting a few of the places where the Group of Seven drew inspiration from. Now all we need to do is visit a few of the nearby art galleries to see more of their work in person.

  10. leightontravels says:

    Your posts were my introduction to the Group of Seven, so it was great to see some of their art installations. They strike me as an unconventional bunch, dedicated passionately to their art. Last vacation days are always a bit melancholic. Hope you had a great last day!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The Moments of Algoma signs were a fantastic way to learn more about the Group of Seven and their connection to Northern Ontario. It’s such a beautiful area and I can easily see why they drew much inspiration from the rugged landscape. They helped to demonstrate the beauty of nature and paved the path for future Canadian artists. Our two week road trip just seemed to flow by, but it was filled with so many wonderful memories. I have a feeling we’ll be back someday.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      After visiting Northern Ontario I have a newfound appreciation of the Group of Seven. They’ve helped bring the Canadian landscape to life with their art and paved the way for future Canadian artists.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The Moments of Algoma installations were a fun way to learn more about Canadian art and its connection to the area. You can totally sit on the canvas seat by the easel. We took a few funny pictures pretending to be an artist painting the picture.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for commenting. We had fabulous weather for spending time outdoors and exploring the area. Having nice weather can make such a difference. Enjoy the rest of the week. Linda

  11. Bama says:

    It’s amazing how much history Sault Ste. Marie and its surrounding area has. That canal is neat, and the old building so pretty. The Loon Dollar Monument looks huge! You captured everything beautifully, Linda.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      You are too kind. We’ve driven through Sault Ste. Marie a few times and it was nice to finally stop and check out some of the local attractions. It was neat to learn about the history of the town. It’s amazing how canals and locks have come such a long way. The giant loonie was well worth the detour. There are actually three giant coins in Ontario and this was the last one we needed to visit.

  12. ourcrossings says:

    I wish I knew the difference between a “loonie” and a “toonie” before my trip to Canada many years ago. I didn’t even know such terms existed, but I guess that’s why we travel – it is one of life’s greatest teachers. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Us Canadians have found some clever (and cute) nicknames for those coins. There is actually a giant toonie as well which we visited last year. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of the week. Linda

  13. rkrontheroad says:

    This looks like a fascinating exhibit – I remember seeing a show of the Group of Seven in Toronto years ago and bought a book of their prints. Seeing the places that inspired them must have been very enjoyable.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The Moments of Algoma art installations were very well designed and help show the connection of their art with the landscape. After visiting many of the places that inspired their work, I’m hoping to revisit a few art galleries in Ontario to see their work in person.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I have so much more appreciation for their work after visiting a few of the areas that they painted or drew inspiration from. The Moments of Algoma signs are a wonderful idea to connect nature with art and provide more fun facts about the Group of Seven.

  14. Christie says:

    Hmm.. we missed the loonie’s monument on our trips, I will remember next time!
    And I will add the toonie on my list, now that I know of🙂
    Happy (almost) Friday!!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I missed the Loonie Monument the previous two times we took a road trip around Lake Superior. It wasn’t until we visited the giant toonie in Campbellford that I looked up if there were other giant coins in Ontario. Hope you had a fabulous weekend. It always goes by too quickly. Take care. Linda

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        It’s actually snowing outside right now. I’m debating about whether we should buy a snow blower! We had a lot of snow this winter and shoveling is more time consuming than I thought. It’s a good excuse to get some fresh air though.

      • Christie says:

        I like shoveling snow, but sometimes enough is enough😁 You should definitely get a snow blower, maybe there are sales now at the end of the season..

  15. BrittnyLee says:

    Wow. That’s a wild history . I feel bad for Tom Thompson, losing most of his paintings I’m the rapids. I can’t imagine how awful he must’ve felt . That loon Dollar monument is really different looking. I like that a lot. It’s always wild to see different kinds of statues and monuments in any given place while traveling. When I went to Erie with my friend this summer, we happened upon a bunch of frog monuments. It was so neat. These photos are very lovely 😍

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It must have been rough for him to lose all his work, but I guess it was all part of the experience. Tom Thompson didn’t have much luck with canoeing. Believe it or not but he actually drowned in a place in Algonquin called Canoe Lake.

      There are three giant coins in Ontario. The loonie was the last one we needed to visit to see them all. These interesting monuments are a great excuse to visit some of these smaller communities that we otherwise would have just driven through.

      • BrittnyLee says:

        Oh man , he drowned ?! Poor guy. That’s awful. There’s three ? That’s really cool 😎 . I love little town novelties like that. They make ordinary things so interesting 🤔 . I’m glad you stopped in to see them. I’m enjoying learning about them. I love things like this

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        It was such a shame because he died so young. He was an amazing Canadian artist that drew much inspiration from nature. Although he died before the Group of Seven was established, he is considered an unofficial member.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      There are three giant coins in Ontario and the loonie was the last one we needed to visit. I’m glad we were able to hit it up on our road trip. I tend to do a lot of planning and research in advance of our trips, so it was nice to just go with the flow and see where our morning took us.

  16. leightontravels says:

    Like others I’m totally digging the history. Imagine losing pretty much all your work on The Rapids. Ugh, at least they survived. Love The Loonie and what a building The Art Gallery of Algoma is.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      One of my biggest concerns when canoeing is tipping. I couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like to not only have your canoe tip, but to then lose all your work from the summer. Tom Thompson survived that time, but he actually died from drowning on Canoe Lake in Algonquin.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. I am such a fan of Northern Ontario and this was our third road trip we’ve taken here since the start of the pandemic. The scenery is incredible and there’s just so much to explore. It was neat to learn more about the Group of Seven along the way. I have much more of an appreciation for their art after visiting a few of the places that inspired their work.

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