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.