Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Soo Locks

In honor of Logan's thirteenth birthday, we drove up to the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced Sue Saint Marie) Monday. Sault Ste. Marie is the northernmost town on I75, the interstate highway that that runs vertically from Michigan to Florida across the United States. 

The five-mile Mackinac Bridge (pronounced Mackinaw) connects Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas. Michigan acquired the U.P. after the brief and non-bloody Toledo War with Ohio. Ohio was awarded the Toledo Strip, and the mineral rich Upper Peninsula became a part of Michigan. It is a three hour drive from where we live either to the Mackinac Bridge or the Michigan-Ohio border. It's an hour drive from the "Big Mac" to Sault Ste. Marie.

Oops! Spelling mistake. It should be Detroit.

Michiganders always have a map with them. Most of Michigan's 10,000,000 residents live in the Lower Peninsula, "Mitten," where we explain where we live by pointing to our hands. Michigan is surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes--Michigan, Superior, Huron and Erie. The Great Lakes comprise 95% of the entire nation's fresh water. 

Every day from March to January, freighters and tour boats are raised and lowered in the Soo Locks. The St. Marys River, the border between the U.S. and Canada at Sault Ste. Marie, drops 21 feet in rapids. Until the locks were constructed it was impossible for ships to sail from Lake Superior to Lake Michigan. The locks are long narrow passages with gates at both sides. The water level in the canal on the west side of the locks is twenty-feet higher than the water on the east side of the locks. When a ship enters the locks, the gates are closed and water is forced in or out of the locks to raise or lower the vessel.

Iron ore is one of the minerals shipped on Great Lake freighters. During WWII a fort was constructed near the Soo Locks to protect the water route that supplied factories with raw materials. The fort later became the home of Lake Superior State University.

This 730 foot long freighter enters the MacAruther Lock, one of two functional locks in Sault Ste. Marie. The larger Poe Lock can accommodate 1,000 foot long vessels. The first lock was constructed by the Northwest Fur Company in 1789. When Michigan was granted statehood in 1837, immediate plans were enacted to build a lock for $112,500. The locks are now controlled by the United States Army Corp of Engineers.

The Soo Locks opened on March 25th this year and will remain in operation until January. Before opening in the spring, steam is used to melt ice in the locks. During the shipping year, Great Lakes freighters will make many trips through the locks.

As water enters the lock, this empty freighter rises twenty feet to continue its journey to Lake Superior. The water level of the lock is controlled by holes in the floor that either allow water in or force water out of the locks. The nearby Edison Sault Electric Company powers the locks. Three percent of the electricity produced is used by the locks, the remaining 97% provides electricity for the Eastern U.P.

The freighter leaves the locks to continue to Duluth, Minnesota. The International Bridge, that connects Michigan and Ontario, Canada can be seen in the distance. Sault Ste. Marie is the name of cities on both sides of the bridge. The Canadian Sault Ste. Marie is bigger and more industrial than its Michigan twin. Before 9-11 border passage was relatively easy between Michigan and Canada. With new laws, a passport or special Michigan Driver's License is required for entry to the United States. 


  1. very informative...glad you were able to go along to give report.

  2. Thanks...I didn't know all that! It's very interesting.

  3. Howdy!

    Us northwoodsers seen a mistake on the map of MI.
    The thumb don't go down on the U.P.!

    ~David, Grace, Hannah, Enoch, & Nathanael

    (in these parts we is known as Jimmy Dee, Liza Beth, Nana,
    Nocky John, and Nicky Daniel)