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Local History

A Traditional Gathering Place

The area that is now known as Sault Ste. Marie has been a traditional North American gathering place for millennia. The first inhabitants were the native Anishinaabe people-specifically members of the Ojibwe group (sometimes also called Chippewa).

With plentiful whitefish in the rapids and ample game and furs available in the surrounding forests, the area became a favoured spot for trade and regional meetings. In time, it became an important seat of political power. The area is still known today as the gathering place of the Three Fires Confederacy; an Anishinaabe alliance of the Ojibwe, Ottawa and Potawatomi groups.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, European settlers began moving into the region and the location became an important stop on the Fur Trade Route. Trading posts emerged on both sides of the St. Marys River, resulting in both the Canadian and American Saults having the distinction of being among the oldest European settlements in Ontario and Michigan respectively. The permanent villages that emerged around the river featured mixed populations of Anishinaabe, Europeans and M├ętis.

Today, much has changed about Sault Ste. Marie but its tradition of being a gathering place endures. With neighbouring First Nations communities and with Sault Ste. Marie having one of the largest urban indigenous populations of any city in the province, the area continues to be a home for many Anishinaabe people. However, the City is now also called home by newcomers from around the world. And with its strategic location at the heart of the Great Lakes and North America, Sault Ste. Marie continues to be an important destination for business, trade and travel.

Timeline Since European Contact

1610 – Etienne Brule, at 17 years of age, was sent by Champlain to learn about the native inhabitants and to explore the interior of the country. His route brought him through this area.

1623 - Brule named this spot "Sault du Gaston" in honour of the brother of the King of France.

1632 - Champlain draws a map of New France as explored to date and marks the Sault, making it one of the first named places on any map of the New World.

1660 – A great battle takes place at Iroquois Point between the Ojibwe and their traditional enemies the Iroquois. The Objiwe emerge victorious after surprising a pre-dawn battle.

1661 - Radisson and his brother-in-law Grosseilliers (or Gooseberry as the English called him) under the sponsorship of King Charles ll of England, form the Hudson Bay Company, the French having refused to share profits with the two explorers, who are highly successful fur traders. The accounts of their many adventures are recorded in the diaries of Samuel Pepys.

1669 - The Jesuits (missionary priests) begin calling the site "Sault Ste. Marie"—The Rapids of St. Mary.

1671 - St. Lusson, sent by Jean Talon, erects a large Cross here in the presence of thousands of spectators from fourteen First Nations peoples. Talon claims possession of all of the lands in the name of the King of France. To commemorate this historic occasion, the world’s tallest illuminated self-supporting Cross was erected on a hilltop for all to see some three hundred years later.

1734 - The first wooden ship to sail Lake Superior was built by Louis Denis Sieur de la Ronde at Pointe aux Pins in 1734. Later, Alexander Henry and Alexander Baxter, son of the Russian consul, continued building ships to explore and mine the area for copper and furs, establishing Pointe aux Pins as the shipbuilding centre for the region. Some of the ships names included: the Athabaska, the Otter, the Mink, the Perseverance, the Fur Trader, the Invincible and the Discovery. Besides these ships, there were nine schooners on the lake in 1846.

1771 - A primitive blast furnace was in operation at Point aux Pins.

1858 - Sault was considered a Judicial District.

1870 - The Chicora, carrying troops to the Red River uprising, was denied passage through the American Lock prompting the construction of a Canadian lock.

1887 - Sault Ste. Marie was incorporated as a town, William Brown being its first mayor.

1887 - The International Rail Bridge was constructed.

1888 - The first telephone and electricity was put in.

1894 - American industrialist Frances Clergue arrived looking to invest.

1895 - The Canadian Lock opened.

1902 - The first steel made within the limits of Ontario was blown at the Sault Steel Plant at 3:15 Thursday afternoon February 13th.

1912 - Sault Ste. Marie was incorporated as a City.

1918 - The town of Steelton was amalgamated with the City.

1924 - Provincial Air Service was established here and the City became known worldwide as a centre for firefighting technology and techniques.

1935 - Sir James Dunn assumed control of the Steel Plant and brought unprecedented expansion and prosperity to it and to the City.

1963 - The International Bridge was constructed.

1965 - The townships of Korah and Tarentorus amalgamated with the City of Sault Ste. Marie.

Heritage Panels

Sault Ste. Marie History

Heritage Properties in Sault Ste. Marie

National Historic Sites

St. Marys River Heritage Waterway

Did You Know?

Bawating or Pawating, meaning fast rushing waters (rapids), was the first name given to this area by the native Anishinaabe.

The Ojibwe settled here thousands of years ago - artifacts dating back to 7,000 B.C. have been found here.

The St. Marys River once covered the entire area of Bay Street before the Canadian Lock was built in the late 1800's.

There were large herds of caribou around Gros Cap in the 1800’s but for some unknown reason they moved out of the area at the end of the century to be replaced by deer.

The "Dime" was the first Steam Ferry fired with wood, to run between the two Saults.

When the St. Marys River froze over in the winter, the ice was tested for depth and when considered safe, a road was made across with a fence of evergreens planted in the snow on either side to mark the road. People could walk across or drive their sleighs as they chose. Exciting races were held if the ice was good.

Longfellow’s epic poem "Hiawatha" was based on an Ojibwe legend concerning this area.

Frances Hector Clergue, a wealthy American Industrialist and business man, was responsible for founding the Steel Plant, the Power Plant and the Paper Mill.

Mary Astor, a Hollywood silent screen movie star and later of the "talkies", made a film here in the 1920’s depicting the life of Frances H. Clergue. Many Saultites acted as "extras" in the riot scene which actually occurred when Clergue couldn’t meet the payroll for his various enterprises.

Ernest Hemingway, world renowned author, was quoted in the Toronto Star on August 28, 1920 as saying, "At the present time, the best rainbow trout fishing in the world is in the Rapids at the Canadian Soo."

Group of Seven Painters came to the Algoma area from 1918–1923, including Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, J.E.H. MacDonald and Arthur Lismer. They rented a boxcar and outfitted it like a cabin which was shunted to sidings near choice painting locations. From there they would go along the track on foot and by canoe throughout the wilderness. Their paintings became famous, as did the area they painted.

Hockey stars who played in the Sault or were from the Sault include: Phil Esposito, Tony Esposito, Ron Francis and Wayne Gretzky. Other renowned sports celebrities are given a place of honour at the Sports Hall of Fame located at the Museum.

Astronaut Dr. Roberta Bondar, a Sault native, was the first Canadian woman in space; she orbited the earth on board the U.S. Space Shuttle Discovery January 20 – 28, 1992.

Chippewa Falls, the midway point of the Trans-Canada highway, is located just north of the City, marked by a plaque at that point.

Colonel Sydney L. Penhorwood, a member of the Order of the British Empire and also a recipient of the Royal Victorian Order because of his outstanding services in World War 1, who originally had commanded the Sault’s 51st Rifles, became good friends with King George V while in charge of the Forestry Unit during World War 1 and working at Buckingham Palace. There is a photo of him with King George and legendary Canadian flying ace Billy Bishop. Penhorwood Park is named in his honour.

Royal Visit - Queen Elizabeth ll accompanied by her husband H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh, came ashore at Clergue Park on the morning of July 8, 1959. The Royal Yacht Brittania cast anchor in the St. Marys River. History was made because for the first time a reigning monarch visited Sault Ste. Marie.
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