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.
By Conor Mihell
Nick Brash uses one word to describe the vibe of the 2021 Ultra Trail Stokely Creek: “Joyous.” That’s the overwhelming memory for Brash in organizing his second gathering of 175 running enthusiasts in the Algoma Highlands, just north of Sault Ste. Marie. Indeed, after a year’s hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a welcoming mood of happiness, relief and camaraderie emanates from photographs and videos from the much-anticipated UTSC, held last September amid perfect autumn weather and vibrant colours in the hardwood-clad hills.
“It was like, ‘finally,’” recalls Brash. “We could gather and be one as a community again. Local runners are the driving force of the event. We’re all so excited to show off our backyard. That’s what makes it so inviting for people coming from elsewhere.”
The 2019 UTSC, held at Stokely Creek Lodge in Goulais River, about 30 minutes north of Sault Ste. Marie, included 5km, 15km, 32km, 55km and 83km courses. The inaugural event attracted a sell-out crowd of 150 runners from across Ontario and the U.S. Midwest. Brash admits he was floored by the turnout—and equally surprised when the event claimed a Northern Ontario Tourism Innovator award later that year.
Perhaps the greatest accolade, however, came when the prestigious Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, a world-renowned trail race held annually in France, accepted Brash’s upstart, grassroots event as an official points qualifier. The UTSC was red hot and expectations were sky high—escalating into even greater, pent up anticipation when Brash finally received clearance to deliver the sequel in 2021.
To meet UTMB requirements Brash added a 170-km category for 2021, attracting 15 hard-core entrants (only five managed to finish the punishing long-distance course). Regardless of the race distance, they’re all meant to be tough, the organizer insists. The UTSC routes exploit “every scrap of elevation gain” in the rugged Algoma Highlands, including swooping single-track through intimate hardwood forests, exposed granite ridges and technical rocky climbs and descents.
With few (if any, depending on the distance) road segments, an overwhelming sense of wilderness pervades and runners must keep close track of trail markers. The popular 17km category ascends King Mountain, one of Ontario’s highest points of land, affording views to Lake Superior. Brash, an avid runner and founder of Bear in Mind Running, a local trail race organizer, mapped routes with all of his favourite heart-pounding climbs and jaw-dropping lookouts for his flagship UTSC event.
But all the challenges come with definite rewards. “I tried to include everything that I would want to see if I was a runner coming here for the first time,” adds Brash. “I wanted to make sure to include every possible view that needed to be seen out there.”
Having travelled across Canada for running events, it was natural for Sault Ste. Marie-based runner Mir Shafiee to support a race in his own backyard. Shafiee, who has participated in both installments of the UTSC, contends the Algoma Highlands scenery is truly world-class. “Last year, I remember scenes of sunrise, quiet lakes and thick fog,” says Shafiee, 53, who ran the 56km event in 2021. “It felt like I was running in the clouds on Robertson Cliffs.
“Trail running is always a challenge because of the uneven footing,” he adds. “But I never grow tired of it. Stokely is a challenging course. But it will teach you how to be persistent, and how to keep going forward.”
As much as Brash, who has run the epic 100-miler at UTMB in France, admires the long-distance competitors, he maintains that the UTSC is for everyone. The shorter races are popular with youth, first-time runners and high-school athletes alike. As the buzz continues to grow around Stokely’s “ultra”-length races, Brash says continued interest amongst recreational runners in the 5km and 17km categories will ultimately drive registration to his goal of 300-plus participants when UTSC returns on September 23-24, 2022.
For Ramin Emad, the 5km event at Stokely was a perfect way to wrap up his first season of trail running. Emad, 40, who moved to Sault Ste. Marie from Toronto in 2020, recalls being nearly overwhelmed by the initial uphill climb—and then equally awestruck from the scenery as the trail levelled off. “It’s like you’re on top of the world, surrounded by all the fall colours,” he says. “I had to stop to enjoy the view and just take it all in.”
Of course, Brash is far too busy on race day to lace up his own running shoes. But he shares in the thrilling sense of accomplishment runners feel as they cross the finish line. “It’s like a tailgate party,” he says. “It’s a celebration, not a competition.”
Emad recalls feeling just that as he completed his first UTSC. “It was so friendly and there was such great camaraderie,” he says. “The cowbells were ringing and I felt great.”