As part of our family trip to Northern Ontario in partnership with Attractions Ontario, we visited and explored the city of Sault Ste Marie. We’d passed it a few times on trips we’d taken to the USA in years past, but we never stopped to explore. I remember driving over the International bridge and looking at that super blue water down there and thinking: we must visit this place. During this first official visit to SSM we spend 2 days and our impression was amazing: the city is incredible and worth a visit.
Here are some ideas to enjoy your stay in the city with your family. It is worth mentioning that we did this tour with 2 children (3 and 5 years old) and a puppy dog, so many of the tips will be family-oriented.
The Sault Ste. Marie Canal, built in 1895, was the world’s longest lock, the first to operate using electricity, and the last link in a Canadian shipping chain from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Superior. It is still operating, and it also brings history and beauty to the region. It’s certainly a must-see and it’s really cool to read the signs and learn about the history of the place. A super cool activity you can do in the area is to rent a fat bike and explore the region around the St Marys River, including Whitefish Island and South St Mary’s Island (Attikamek Trail). There are several trails there and you even go under the bridge that connects the United States and Canada. If you go hiking around Whitefish Island, be sure to look for “fairy doors”, which are small, colorful doors scattered throughout the park.
You won’t believe Bellevue Park: it has about 7-8 playgrounds, one next to the other. In addition, the place also has a brand new splash pad and trails for you to walk on the edge of the St Marys River. When we parked the car, I looked at a playground and thought it was fantastic. Then I looked the other way and there were two more and then I looked towards the river and, guess what?, another one. I’m not exaggerating: there are MULTIPLE playgrounds (and all huge and super equipped). The boys were so excited, they did not know where to go. They played in all the playgrounds and also went to the splash pad, which we thought it was super good for the little ones. Ella (our puppy) and I also walked around the river and even saw some turtles. It is a delightful place to stroll around the city.
As soon as you arrive in Sault Ste Marie you will notice how green the city is. And if you do some research before leaving, you will find out that around the city there are many beautiful parks and trails for you to explore. Among the most popular is the Hiawatha Highlands, which is a 3000-acre park with several trails. There is also Crystal Falls, which is located inside Kinsmen Park (north of the city). I must confess that we almost gave up visiting the place because we couldn’t find the entrance (you should look for the park in your GPS and not the waterfall). When you arrive at the park’s parking lot, you will take a super short walk along a platform and you will arrive at the waterfalls: beautiful! There are several observation areas and after arriving at the waterfall you can even follow the trail for more, but we chose to play in the park (including the playground) and enjoy the incredible nature of the place.
You must visit the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre when in The Soo. This is a super interactive museum about planes that land on the water. The Centre has 29 planes and several other attractions such as a 3D cinema, a space for children to learn and even the Entomica Insectarium, which has several insects and you are invited to touch and learn about them. Many of the exhibitions on the day we went were focused on forest fires and I found it super interesting. The boys loved it and didn’t want to leave. There’s a part of the museum where a real mechanic is fixing the planes: he was there and had a little chat with us.
And on your way out, don’t miss the Tap Room at Northern Superior Brewing Co., one of the city’s many breweries and the patio is pet-friendly too!
You cannot get to know a city without going to a local ice cream shop. And Sault Ste Marie has several amazing ice cream shops, which have great reviews and are well worth a visit. See the list below of the most famous ice cream parlors in the city. We ended up choosing to have ice cream at Holy Cow, which was close to the hotel and further from the center, so we thought it was a great option for a late afternoon dessert. The boys ordered the Spiderman flavor – which was a mixture of various fruits and very colorful. They loved it!
Agawa Canyon Tour Train: An all-day train ride from Sault Ste Marie (99 Huron Street) to the Agawa Canyon region, which is only accessible this way. The journey is beautiful and people always do it at the fall to see the autumn colors. All reviews and posts I’ve read said that this is an unforgettable experience.
The Breakfast Pig: breakfast restaurant super famous for its food and for using only local ingredients. It has been showcased on TV shows and just seeing the menu made me want to try it. We didn’t go, but I already included it here so next time I will not miss it.
The Mill Market: this is a farmer’s market from producers in the Algoma region. The market is open on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Visiting city markets is always a great way to learn more about the region, as well as delight in local products.
The Boiler Room: restaurant with a super nice patio and wood-fired pizza in the Canal District region. In this area, old buildings were restored to become restaurants and shops (same vibe of Toronto’s Distillery District).
Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site: A historic site with historic houses (from the 1800’s) located in the heart of SSM. We stopped by and took some pictures (see photo of Clergue Blockhouse below) but we still want to go inside and explore more about the history of the area.
We stayed at The Water Town Inn. The hotel was perfect for us because the city’s Tesla chargers are in their parking lot, so we didn’t have to drive far to charge our car. We also find the room very spacious and with easy access to the street, which is perfect for those traveling with dogs and also during the pandemic. The room was super clean and we loved the pool area, because it had a children’s pool (boys played a lot). Our room was pet-friendly and had water plate and even snacks for Ella.
It was AMAZING to explore SSM for the first time and we cannot wait to come back and see more.
If the two buildings, the Old Stone House and the Blockhouse, could talk, they would tell stories steeped in adventure and intrigue about the rich and turbulent times of the fur trade; the aches and pains of early pioneer life and the development of industry along the St. Marys River.
Visit the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site to take a trip back in time over 200 years. See how some of the earliest European settlers in Sault Ste. Marie lived. Learn about the war of 1812 through interactive displays. Take part in some great events throughout the year that will bring these historic buildings to life. Enjoy an interactive audio tour to help guide you through the site or sit in the 50-seat theatre to watch a 25 minute movie that introduces visitors to the history of the area, the historic on-site buildings and the people that lived in them.
Learn more about Sault Ste. Marie’s rich history on a tour of the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site.
The Ermatinger Old Stone House has been fully restored to depict the domestic and professional life of Charles Oakes Ermatinger, a prominent business man who lived in Sault Ste. Marie from 1812 – 1828. Visitors can step back in time by walking through rooms recreated to resemble life 200 years ago. Fascinating pieces of information along the way will enhance the experience, such as learning about how, in the years after Charles Ermatinger had left, the house became a hotel, later a courtroom and also boarding house!
This iconic building dates back to 1819 when it was first build and used as a powder magazine. Later, at the turn of the century, Francis Hector Clergue added an upper level and converted it into a house with two bedrooms, a large living space, and the first indoor washroom. Visitors can tour through the building’s two levels getting another sample of historic Sault Ste. Marie life while learning more about Francis H. Clergue himself.
The War of 1812 was a 32-month long conflict between the United States and Great Britain fought in Upper Canada and Lower Canada. The Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site contains a fantastic, interactive gallery of the war that shaped the North America we know today. Learn why the war was fought, what was the outcome, what were the key battles, and who were the famous faces. Read about famous naval skirmishes, and check out the uniforms worn during the war.
A superb selection of souvenirs are available at the gift shop. This includes souvenirs from Sault Ste. Marie and Canada as a whole, a selection of Group of Seven merchandise and work by local artists including local Indigenous artists. The gift shop also sells seeds and produce from the garden! Come and check it out, you’ll find a variety of things and everything special about Algoma.
12 events are planned throughout the year. In June there is the fantastic Lilac and Lavender festival and Poutine Feast – 4 days of Poutine from 8 different vendors with live music and kids entertainments! This is followed by the Strawberry Festival in July, Blueberry Festival in August. September is a big month for events with Fall Rendezvous which in 2022 will include a harvest festival and well as the traditional reenactors on the front lawn. Other events are planned for October including Halloween House and Halloween on Queen. Check out our events page here or follow the Ermatinger Facebook page here for all the latest info!