Soo Locks History
Established in 1668, Sault Ste. Marie is the third oldest continuous settlement in the United States. Before being a European settlement, the area was inhabited by North American Indians for almost 2,000 years. On the shore of the St. Mary's River the native community, Bahweting - "The Gathering Place" - was quickly established as an important fishing and meeting place.
The first European settlement was established by early French fur traders. Known to them as Sault du Gastogne, it was changed in 1668 by the Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette to Sault Ste. Marie, in honor of the Virgin Mary. There is debate about what the name translated to, but French speakers say "Sault" means "to jump", making Sault Ste. Marie the place where people would come to "jump the St. Mary's".
In the mid 1700's the French and British often fought over the area. In most cases the fights were about British trade with the Indians. Both of these countries flew their respective flags. In 1820, the Treaty of the Sault turned control of the area over to the United States. America, concerned about a Canadian invasion, built Fort Brady on the site of the old French fort. In the 1890's Fort Brady was abandoned for the second time and moved to Mr. Ryan's Hill, the sight that is famous today for being the home of the Lake Superior State University.
The St. Mary's River is the only water connection between Lake Superior and the Great Lakes. However, there is a section of the river known as the St. Mary's Rapids where the water falls about 21 feet from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower lakes. The natural barrier made it necessary for the construction of the Sault Locks, a project known as the St. Mary's Falls Canal. The first lock was built in 1797, on the Canadian side, but was destroyed in the War of 1812. The United States built its first lock in 1855. Today there are 4 locks in use, continuously being visited by ships and tourists alike. You can actually experience the thrill of "locking through" on our Soo Locks sightseeing tours.
Since 1934, passengers riding the Soo Locks Boat Tours have requested additional information on Sault Ste. Marie, the Soo Locks and the Great Lakes shipping industry. Soo Locks Boat Tours has designed two books to answer the questions our crews receive most frequently. We have developed a 72-page "The Soo Locks Guide" and a 97-page "Locks & Ships " publication.
To inquire about purchasing either book, go to our Ship's Store page or call (800)432-6301