Soo Locks

Soo Locks [Sault Ste. Marie]

A grey, windy, almost cold, spitting rain June morning is not the most propitious time to realize the full benefit from a scenic trip through the Soo Locks. But neither I nor the thirty or so other passengers on board the Nokomis were to be deterred -- though we looked out on a virtually colorless expanse of the St. Mary's River (from the Lake Huron side) that blended with an equally colorless sky.

One of the world's busiest waterways, the Soo Locks enable passage for ships of up to 1000 feet in length transporting cargo (overwhelmingly iron ore from mines in Wisconsin) between Lake Superior and Lake Ontario -- two of the largest fresh-water seas in the world.

From the earliest times people travelled between and among the Great Lakes. Native Americans (Chippewa) settled at a spot they named "Bowating," meaning literally "Place by the Rushing Water." The water was rushing -- in something like a mile the water tumbled over rocks a vertical distance of twenty-one feet from Lake Superior to Lake Ontario -- the rapids of the St. Mary's River or the Sault Ste. Marie.

Those twenty-one feet are overcome today by the Soo Locks. (English-speakers are taught that Sault is pronounced "Soo" but am I the only one who is appalled when it's spelled that way? "Soo" looks like a hog call!) For how the locks work and the story of their development take a moment to look at the Soo Locks Home Page. Come back here, though, for what one person saw as he went through the locks on a gloomy late spring day.

The trip began in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and headed toward the MacArthur Lock (one of four American locks) built in 1943 named for General Douglas MacArthur. Before reaching the lock, however, the good ship Nokomis passed a couple of landmarks on the Sault Ste. Marie, MI, waterfront that are worth noticing:

Built in 1902, the Edison Sault (now Wisconsin Energy Corporation) Hydroelectric Power Plant measures one-fourth mile in length.

The Tower of History, memorializing French mission- aries, provides panoramic views of the Sault district.

Into the Lock