by Alisha Rosset

In 2017, the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site began the process of transforming its visitor experience offer. The Canal features a unique juxtaposition of Indigenous and technological history and Parks Canada has the opportunity to showcase this diverse heritage in a new way.

Before European contact, Sault Ste. Marie was a major fishing and trading centre, as well as, a spiritual gathering place for First Nations. The Sault Ste. Marie Canal (SSMC) National Historic Site is the access point to the traditional place by the rapids where Indigenous people from all over gathered to fish and trade. This area is known today as Whitefish Island National Historic Site and is managed by Batchewana First Nation.

As Parks Canada moves forward in building relationships with Indigenous communities, SSMC is developing new visitor experiences that include the site’s history and significance prior to the canal’s construction. As a result, we have been working with local Métis and First Nation representatives to incorporate traditional and modern connections to the Sault Canal and Whitefish Island. The visitor experience transformation uses the theme of water to connect the stories. Indigenous people fished the rapids, rushing water powered the historic lock, and rising or falling water allows ships to navigate through the canal--all contribute to growing our nation and linking us to the world.

The transformation will include a new Visitor Centre, as well as, new guided and self-guided interpretative activities. Local Indigenous connections will be woven into the experience from the first point of visitor contact. Arriving on site, visitors will be greeted by an artistic welcome in both official languages, as well as, Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway) and Michif. Walking into the Visitor Centre, visitors may explore the landscape before the canal and lock were built. The St. Mary’s River Rapids drew the Métis and First Nations here to fish and settle along the river. The rapids are the central figure of the story and the main reason the lock exists. Moving into the self-guided experiences both indoor and outdoor, the juxtaposition of past versus present and natural versus industrial will represent the unique significance the site has in the development of Canada.

These changes and improvements are made possible as a result of the developing working relationship between the Sault Ste. Marie Canal, Batchewana First Nation, and the Métis Nation of Ontario. The site is excited to be working with and learning from Indigenous partners. Building our relationships and including Indigenous stories and cultures will make for a richer experience for visitors.

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