Plenty to do in The Soo
Great Outdoors, Craft Breweries, Festivals, and Good Times
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario was once a thriving industrial cross-border town in Northern Ontario, across the river from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Today, the steel plants are still operational and the shipping locks are used more for recreational purposes, however the city has adapted quite well to positioning itself as a tourist destination these days. It’s also commonly referred to as “The Soo”.
Surrounded by wilderness, one can be in the thick of nature within a 15-minute drive of almost anywhere in the city, thereby living up to its tagline as a “Naturally Gifted Community”. The city itself may not be the prettiest in the province, but what it lacks in beauty it makes up with pride. The remnants of abandoned steel plants and riverside lock land are being repurposed into public parks, trails, and cultural attractions. People who live here are proud of who they are, and eager to continue forward with this resurgence.
Queen Street is this city’s “Main Street”, offering a variety of retail shops, restaurants, bars, and other entrepreneurial business operations. Strolling from one end to the other provides a glimpse into the past, with such long time establishments as Muio’s diner and Reggie’s tavern, along with some of the newer offerings like Loplop’s martini lounge and Solo Trattoria. Recently, local businesses and residents have been staging various events to breathe some new life back to the downtown core.
uptown or downtown
The city itself is divided into a “downtown” and “uptown” area, the first being the original settlement, and the second being the more suburban big-box, chain type stores and restaurants. The city recently developed the multi-purpose Hub Trail that basically runs along the St. Mary’s River, and connecting to each side of the city, and across the top, forming a full circle of 22 kilometres. It’s quite popular with locals, out for a stroll or a family bike ride, and is quite diverse in its topography, passing through residential areas and wooded forests.
As well, for those looking for something a bit more adventurous, there are several mountain bike trails that can be found in and around Hiawatha Highlands Kinsmen Park and Crystal Falls. As well, the Voyageur Trail currently connects Thunder Bay to Sudbury, and is scheduled to be expanded into Sault Ste. Marie by next summer, via the 380km Lake Huron North Channel Trail, which will be the first fully signed and maintained cycle trail in Northern Ontario. This section of the Trans Canada Trail will allow cyclists to visit smaller communities along the route, with the majority of the trail separated from vehicles. Velorution is a great bike shop to rent wheels from or get a tune up before heading out for a ride. They also offering free tent camping for cyclists passing through.
As in other cities, craft brewing is starting to take foot here as well. Three micro-breweries have recently opened, including Northern Superior. Some may recall this brand name from the first-wave of independent brewers a few decades ago. It was once a thriving brewery supplying much of Ontario with a good quality brew that was proudly northern Canadian, right down to it’s wolf print label. Today, the business is owned by three young entrepreneurs hoping to regain that same reputation of yore. Be sure to visit Outspoken Brewpub and Union Jack Brewing, both on Queen Street.
Adjacent to Northern Superior brewing is one of The Soo’s must-see attractions. The Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre. Bush planes are a common sight in the north, and are used for both recreational purposes, such as fly-in fishing and backcountry hunting, to firefighting and emergency rescue operations throughout the region. Guests can view a variety of vintage and current planes, participate in a flight simulator, and watch a 3D-movie that provides and inside look at the woes of forest fighting.
By far, the top visitor attraction in the area is the Agawa Canyon Tour train, that runs daily June to October. The train departs early morning from downtown, and rides the rails through wooded scenery that includes trestles and lakes enroute to the final destination of Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park. It’s here that one of Canada’s greatest art collectives, Group of Seven, created some of their better known paintings. Train guests have an hour at the park to walk the trails to waterfalls, hike up to a scenic lookout, or just lounge in the park taking in the inspirational scenery. Snacks, bar, and full meal service are available onboard.
all season fun
Fall is most definitely the best time of year to do this full-day tour, with the fall forest a kaleidoscope of natural colours. The centenary anniversary of the Group of Seven’s visit to the region happens in 2018, and special events are sure to be planned. The Art Gallery of Algoma has several original sketchings and paintings from various group members, and there’s also a spotlight on founding member Lawren Harris at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto running until September 18th, 2016.
Embracing its northern location, the city hosts events throughout the year, including the annual Bon Soo winter carnival, and the Algoma Fall Festival which draws local and international performing artists. It’s also well known for its local sports teams, with past residents going on to play in the National Hockey League, and most recently one of its very own won a Gold Medal in the Olympic curling competition. The Roberta Bondar Pavilion also hosts many events, and was created to commemorate the first Canadian female astronaut to go into space.
Sault Ste. Marie is also working toward defining itself as the “Alternative Energy Capital of North America”. The city is home to the Sault Ste. Marie Solar Park, a Hydroelectic Generating Station, windfarms, and several nearby hydroelectric dams. As well, a pilot waste-to-energy plant collects methane gas from the city's landfill. Lake Superior is just a few hours away by car, and the scenic lakeside drive is one of the most beautiful in the province. For those in the know, fly-fishing can be done within walking distance from downtown, just off tiny Whitefish Island. Definitely a unique experience.
Although there’s no gay bars in town, there are local gay-friendly places, as well as an annual Pride festival. This year’s Sault Pride has expanded to a full 10-day festival of eclectic programming for the local LGBT community, friends, and family. Events include a movie night, drag show and dance party, family picnic, and the annual “walk” along the riverfront HUB trail. Organizers strive to make this annual event as welcoming as possible to all, and for the first time this year they have partnered with the local female roller-derby contingent, as well as members of S.T.I.L.L. that includes members of the LGBT community across the river in Michigan. The festival runs July 23rd to 30th, 2016.
Sault Ste. Marie makes for a great weekend getaway from the city, offering small town hospitality and all the outdoor activities you can handle.
Porter Airlines has daily non-stop flights from Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto. For those not in the know, this award-winning airline has been servicing the northern reaches of Ontario since its launch into the market several years back. Departing from downtown Toronto, the airline has also won accolades for providing some of the best views of any airport in the world, taking off and landing above Lake Ontario and the Toronto skyline. The service is impeccable as well, from the quick check in process (30 min prior for domestic flights) and complimentary lounge access (with cappuccino, work stations, and WIFI), to the onboard service with complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and snacks. The roomy leather seats also make for a comfortable flight no matter where you’re headed. www.flyporter.com.
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