In 1979, after 80 years of round-the-clock operation, the canal was retired from the St. Lawrence Seaway system and began a new role under the management and direction of Parks Canada. In 1987, due to a structural failure of the lock wall, the canal was closed to navigation.
In 1996, an agreement between federal, provincial, and municipal governments was signed and construction of a new recreational lock began. On July 14, 1998 the new recreational lock opened to boat traffic, after being closed for eleven years.
From the 1890s to the 1980s, the Sault Ste. Marie Canal locked through the old and the new: tired old schooners with leaky bottoms and worn riggings, gleaming new steam-driven passenger ships, coal-blackened freighters (dubbed Upper Lakers) and private yachts with spit-polished brass.