by Stéphane Comeault


Preparations are already underway at the Sault Ste. Marie Canal (SSMC) National Historic Site for 2020 and what promises to be a one-of-a-kind and memorable season marking the 125th anniversary of the canal. A passenger liner from the Great Northern Transit Line, the Majestic, was the first vessel to lock through the newly constructed canal on September 7th 1895.


Parks Canada is envisioning a season-long commemoration, dubbed SSMC 125, incorporating special events on key dates and third-party-led activities that tie into the overall festivities. A steering committee is being formed with key partners and stakeholders to work on a plan to commemorate this unique ‘Lock City’ attraction and its impact on the community and country.


On the first day of regular operation, September 9th 1895, the Sault Ship Canal facilitated the movement of 44,469 tons of cargo on 41 vessels in one day. That’s as much weight as 8,900 adult African elephants! Over the course of its first fiscal year, the canal locked through a total of 2,938 vessels in 1,640 lockages for a total of almost 2.4 million tons of cargo. By the 1920s, the Sault Ship Canal would regularly surpass in tonnage the combined transit of the Suez, Panama and Kiel canals.


The historic lock measured 274 meters (898 feet) in length, 18 meters (59 feet) in width and 13 meters (42 feet) in depth. These dimensions allowed the lock to welcome one Upper Laker and two smaller vessels at one time. It was the longest lock in the world when it opened, and the first in the world to operate using electricity.


The Sault Ship Canal continued to operate commercially until 6:55pm on July 22nd 1987 when a large fracture developed in the southwest wall shutting down the historic lock indefinitely. This fissure measured 60 meters (180 feet) in length and was up to 10 centimeters wide in some areas. The Chief Shingwauk, a passenger vessel from Lock Tours Canada was upbound in the lock when the failure occurred. A smaller, recreational lock was built inside the historic lock chamber and opened to boat traffic in 1998.


The intent of SSMC 125 is to tell the story of the Sault Ship Canal and its progression over the last 125 years as it moved from an industrial marvel of 19th century engineering to the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site; a must-see destination at the heart of the City of Sault Ste. Marie and the Algoma region. This anniversary also provides an opportunity to share stories about the culture and history of the area before the canal was built. The St. Marys River and canal site hold great significance to local Indigenous communities and we look forward to sharing the season-long commemoration with our First Nation and Metis partners as we offer a wide variety of activities for everyone.


2020 promises to be a busy and exciting season for the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site. Stay tuned for more updates as plans develop and get ready to join us in 2020 to celebrate the last 125 years and look toward the future!


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