By Sault Tourism
The Sault Ste. Marie Museum, located in the heart of downtown, houses a fascinating collection of historical exhibits that helps visitors learn about the history of the city all the way back to its earliest days. Check out the Edmund Fitzgerald display in the Marine Gallery, which includes a replica scale model of the famous ship. View historic photographs to see what our waterfront and downtown used to look like, and enjoy some of local sport history including the Soo Greyhounds!
The Sault Ste. Marie Museum though is not just a space curated to tell the history of the local area, it also hosts many fun and unique events, publishes a weekly podcast series, contains a gift shop, and has a new interactive feature utilizing QR codes, which adds video and audio information to many of the displays. Come for a visit when you are in the Soo!
The Sault Ste. Marie Museum is a heritage building constructed originally as a post office between 1904-1906 after the city received $20,000 in funding from the Dominion Government. Like many buildings in Sault Ste. Marie it used sandstone excavated during the construction of the canal, with the iconic clock tower being added in 1912. At this point the Museum, then the Post Office was the largest and grandest building in the City and became a local landmark, being the first sight of the city for approaching travelers.
Today visitors can enjoy the typically Ontarian eclectic architecture combining several styles including uniquely cut stone walls, Romanesque arched windows, magnificent oak stair case and an exquisite three-storey skylight, and the 110 year old clock tower remains an iconic landmark of downtown Sault Ste. Marie.
The Skylight Gallery, on the second floor, is a walkthrough history and the story of Sault Ste. Marie from its early beginnings to the present day. Displays feature artifacts and information on the first people in the area with a full sized Wigwam and early canoe offering fascinating insight into historic life. Other displays feature information on the local fur trade, mining and the lumber trade, which as the displays tells, in 1810 became the main export from Canada.
Moving into the twentieth century the museum has exhibits on healthcare including nursing as well as policing and fire management. Additional information including archived video and audio is available via a series of QR codes, including the one below, which adds an interactive component to any visit of the Sault Museum.
The Discovery Gallery is a fun and interactive, hands-on learning children’s area. It contains artifacts and features nature species, photographs as well as a dress-up area. This space is also used to host workshops, activities and events, more of which is mentioned later in this article.
On the third floor is the Music Gallery, which showcases Sault Ste. Marie musicians and venues through the ages. Bands and musical groups originated at the turn of last century during the days of silent movies, and Sault Ste. Marie had its fair share of entertainers. Sounds from these bands would commonly be heard emerging from the Algoma Theatre, Grand Opera House and the St. Marys River Boat Club. During the 1950s and 1960s when smaller Rock & Roll bands became fashionable, musical acts would perform in local Sault Ste. Marie bars including the Victoria House, The Royal, Lock City Hotel and more.
The Music Gallery houses a collection memorabilia, artifacts and videos from these eras and also contains ‘The Sault Music Project’, a giant binder of past and present Soo musicians!
The Marine Gallery offers a pictorial display of early Great Lakes cruise ships, a brief history of the Locks and scale models of two of the more storied Great Lakes ships, the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Chicora.
The Chicora was a British blockade-runner for the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Her role was primarily to transport guns and ammunition from Bermuda to Charleston. After the war, the ship was transformed into an overnight passenger and freight vessel, and carried mail and passengers from Collingwood to Sault Ste. Marie. In 1870, the Chicora was again involved in a dispute with America when she was refused entry to the American locks and was forced to unload its army destined for the Red River Rebellion. This particular incident, as well as a general tension between the two countries, spurred the building of a Canadian canal in Sault Ste. Marie.
The Edmund Fitzgerald is perhaps the most famous ship to be associated with the Great Lakes, having sunk in a November storm in 1975 killing the entire crew of twenty-nine. A scale model, as well as information about the ship’s fateful timeline, can be viewed in the Marine Gallery of The Sault Museum.
The Sports Hall of Fame gallery depicts local athleticism from the 1800s forward and features artifacts and photos showcasing the wide variety of sports that represent our city. Check out the Eliason Motor Toboggan, and a special commemorative display for the 1948 NOHA champions, the Soo Greyhounds!
A video presentation highlights various sports and the people involved. The gallery is dedicated to Russell H. Ramsay, local sportscaster, president & general manager of Hyland Radio & TV. He served as an Alderman on city council and served as the MPP for Sault Ste. Marie 1978-1985.
This gallery, on the first floor, is dedicated to Lt. Col. Walter Wallace, past commanding officer of the 49th Field Regiment RCA, past president of Royal Canadian Legion – Branch 25 – and past president of the Sault Ste. Marie & 49th Field Regiment RCA Historical Society. Walter was a big advocate for museum later serving as president of the board of directors. He helped oversee the move of the historical Society’s collection to the museum in 1983.
The museum’s wartime collection includes a selection of diaries from 1914 to 1918, military medals and badges, trench art, photographs, and uniforms among other items.
COMMEMORATIVE OLYMPIC METAL DATE: 1928
This bronze gold metal was awarded to Sault Ste. Marie local Olympian Boxer Ray Smillie in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The bronze disc has an image of a seated female figure; with the words stamped; “IX Olympiad Amsterdam, 1928”.
SURVEYOR’S STAKE DATE: 1846
The stake was used by local surveyor Alexander Vidal. The large square wooden post, pointed at both ends of the stake, features carved lettering on all four sides to depict the direction from the stake in which each divided land plot would begin. It was used to dictate plots and streets based on Vidal’s surveying.
COMMEMORATIVE KEYS DATE: OCTOBER 28, 1954 & NOVEMBER 7, 1963
These two commemorative keys were presented to the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception during two significant ceremonies in Sault Ste. Marie. The keys celebrated the grand opening of the General Hospital’s addition of the New Pavilion’s B Wing in 1954 and the Pavilion’s A and Y wing in 1963.
Located inside is also a great gift shop, the Clock Tower Gift Shop, which contains unique books about the area, local art works, craft works by local consigners and various locally made gifts and goodies!
Every Thursday, the Sault Museum publishes a podcast under the series titled ‘Stories of Northern Life’. This unique and fascinating series covers local history, tells important local stories, and from time to time has a Q&A with Museum experts and staff, where often-wondered questions like ‘Is the museum haunted?’ are discussed.
The Sault Ste. Marie Museum runs many unique and fun events and activities each week. Whether it’s a Prohibition Event with beer tasting and trivia, Murder Mystery nights, Scottish Highland dancing or one of the various paint nights including ‘Bad Art Club’ and ‘Star Wars Paint Night’. All the information about the various events can be found here!
For more information about this wonderful collection of local history, visit the Sault Ste. Marie Museum’s website.
And did you know that you can pick up a 4-Culture Attraction Pass on the Sault Tourism website? This Pass will give you 10% off admission to the Sault Ste. Marie Museum as well as the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site and the Art Gallery of Algoma. Click here and scroll down the page to learn more. Plan your cultural visit in Sault Ste. Marie today!
Are you interested in going to a powwow but not sure about going on your own? Thrive Tours, an Indigenous-owned and operated guide company, offers Learn to Powwow Tours in the Sault Ste. Marie area. These tours introduce non-Indigenous tourists to powwows and will teach you everything you need to know.
Our family was able to join Brad and Amanda, owners of Thrive Tours, on a Learn to Powwow Tour and had an incredible experience together! Our tour group included Sault Ste. Marie locals, Ontario tourists and travelers from around the world. We came together as a group of all ages to learn to powwow and experience a celebration of Indigenous culture.
Our tour began with an introduction to powwow history, tradition and etiquette. Our guides taught us the cleansing practice of smudging and invited us to participate in this traditional ceremony. Along with our guides, we also had special guests from the Indigenous community come and speak to us.
When settlers came in, the local Indigenous people were no longer allowed to practice their culture. The sacred ceremonies and songs had to continue deep in the bush and underground. Despite this oppression, the tradition and the heartbeat of the drum carried on and continues today. Although often looked on as traditions of the past, Brad shared with us that they “are not people of the past, but people with a past. [We] have an amazing history and an amazing future!”
During our introduction we were also honoured to have Chief Dean Sayers of Batchewana First Nations come and speak with us. He shared some of the history of the Indigenous people of the Sault Ste Marie area, also referred to as Bawating, meaning ‘place of the rapids’. Chief Sayers welcomed us to come on in and celebrate!
Lucia, who has been dancing at powwows since she was a young girl, shared with us the dos and don’ts of the powwow. She told us that it is customary to stand at the beginning of the powwow, as a sign of honour, while the dancers enter the circle during the Grand Entry. Taking photos and videos during the Grand Entry is not allowed, but Lucia shared with us the proper way to take photos at other points during the powwow.
Our guides explained to us the different types of powwow dancing and the significance of the dancers’ attire, called regalia. Our guide Brad is a powwow singer and drummer who has been powwowing for about 15 years. He shared with us the history and significance of drumming and how the beat of the drums honors the heartbeat of Mother Earth.
After our time of learning we went as a group to the powwow. On our way to the circle we passed by the sacred fire. This fire is lit before the powwow starts and burns until the end. Fire keepers sit around the fire to make sure it continues burning. We honored them and the fire by putting tobacco in the fire and saying ‘Miigwetch’, which means ‘thank you’.
The powwow we attended, Gathering at the Rapids at Algoma University, was an indoor Competition Powwow (differing from a Traditional Powwow). There were a number of drum groups and dancers of all ages competing in different categories. As we entered the building, the Grand Entry was underway. We could feel the heartbeat of the drums resonate within us and stood as the dancers entered the circle. The intricate designs of the dancers’ regalia was amazing to see – bright colours, feathers, tassels, beading and jingling cones. After representatives carried in flags and veterans were honoured, the competition began.
We listened and watched as different drum groups took turns singing and drumming while the dancers made their way around the circle. We saw different categories of dances – traditional, jingle, grass, fancy – and watched as each age category took their turn, from the tiny tots to the golden age dancers. Our guides were available throughout the powwow to answer any questions we had and shared more information with us about the different dances.
One unique experience that we had not been expecting, was the opportunity to join in on the dancing! Throughout the powwow there are inter tribal dances, where everyone from every background is invited to come into the circle and dance. Our children have been learning about Indigenous culture and powwows in school and to actually be there and take part was a very special experience.
In addition to the drumming and dancing, there were also Indigenous vendors set up at the powwow. We admired the handmade goods, enjoyed some lemonade and ate delicious food!
As a non-Indigenous person, I’ve been hesitant about attending a powwow in the past. I didn’t know what the proper etiquette was and didn’t want to be disrespectful in any way. It was so great having our guides from Thrive Tours to show us around and answer all of our questions! The whole powwow environment was one of total inclusivity, positive energy and people coming together to celebrate!
There are several Powwows during spring and summer in and around Sault Ste. Marie, and if you are interested in going you’ll definitely want to check out Thrive Tours’ Learn to Powwow Tours. Learn about the history, people, food and traditions; dancers, drums, singers and teachings. Half or full day experiences are available. Contact Thrive Tours for more info.
And read our other blog post from summer 2022 about spending a day exploring Indigenous culture with the family in Sault Ste. Marie here!