A Vibrant Celebrations of Indigenous Life

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.

Powwow at Sault Ste. Marie
Batchewana Powwow Tour, June 2022

Experience a celebration of Indigenous culture

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!

Brad and Amanda at the Powwow
Brand, Amanda and Lucia from Thrive Tours joined by Chief Sayers
Smoking cedar at a Powwow
Cleansing practice of smudging

Learn Different types of powwow dancing

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.

Dancing at a Powwow
Batchewana Powwow Tour, June 2022
Dancing at a Powwow
Batchewana Powwow Tour, June 2022
Garden River Powwow
Garden River Powwow, August 2021

the sacred fire

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.

Explaining Powwow customs
Explaining Powwow customs
Sacred fire at a Powwow
About to put tobacco on the sacred fire
Drumming at a Powwow
Drumming at Batchewana Powwow, June 2022

Take part in inter tribal 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!

Powwow at Sault Ste. Marie
All are welcome at intertribal dances
Vendors at the Powwow
Indigenous Vendors
Food at the Powwow
Delicious food!

Learn to Powwow Tours

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!

From Powwows to Art and Places of Learning, Sault Ste. Marie is a city rich with Indigenous culture

Sault Ste. Marie is the perfect place to spend some time together as a family. Also referred to as Bawating, meaning “place of the rapids”, the area is rich in Indigenous culture and history. From the whir of excitement at a local powwow to the somber history of the residential school system, there is so much for you to learn and experience together in Sault Ste. Marie.

Here are 7 ways you can experience Indigenous culture in the Soo:

Go on a Learn to Powwow Tour

Whether you’ve been to a powwow before or want to experience one for the first time, you will love the Learn to Powwow Tour with Thrive Tours. Your tour guides will start you off with an introduction, covering powwow history and etiquette, and explain how you can engage in the celebration as a non-Indigenous person. You will also learn the significance of the music and about the different kinds of dances. After your powwow intro, you will join your guides for the spectacular Grand Entry where you’ll watch the dancers enter the circle in their regalia and listen as the drummers echo the heartbeat of Mother Earth. To complete your experience, make sure to try some food, explore the vendors and maybe even join in during an intertribal dance!

Powwow at Sault Ste. Marie
The Powwow Tour
Powwow at Sault Ste. Marie
Brad from Thrive Tours explaining Powwow customs
Powwow at Sault Ste. Marie
All are welcome at intertribal dances

See the Indigenous Art Murals

As you make your way through the buildings and streets of Sault Ste. Marie, you will notice the many large murals painted throughout the city. Many of the murals you’ll find here have been painted by local Indigenous artists. This display of artwork adds a splash of color and vibrancy to the city that everyone in the family will enjoy! Each June, during the Summer Moon Festival, you can watch new murals being painted around the Soo and experience many other Indigenous arts & culture workshops, exhibits and performances.

Explore Whitefish Island

Grab your bikes or walking shoes and spend some time exploring the Indigenous history of Whitefish Island. Whitefish Island is a territory of the Batchewana First Nation and a National Historic Site of Canada. Plaques located around the island provide information about the history and significance of the area, dating back hundreds of years. Once home to many, Whitefish Island was a significant site for fishing and trading throughout history. Now, the island is a popular birding location and the well-maintained trails and boardwalks allow visitors to easily access and enjoy nature.

Paddle on the St Marys River

Get out on the river in a kayak or canoe with Thrive Tours. Your adventure begins with acknowledging the history of the land and showing respect to the water by saying “Miigwetch”, which means “thank you”. Next, you will receive instruction on paddling and water safety before getting in your boat and setting off on the river. Boats, paddles and life jackets are available for both adults and children. While on the water, you will learn about the history of the area and you may even be treated to a traditional song sung by your tour guide.

Canoes for Conservation also offer interpretive tours of the St Marys river in their popular ‘big canoe’. Dip your paddle into the famous Whitefish Rapids at Bawating, one of the most significant cultural gathering places of the Anishinaabe People since time immemorial. These tours are popular with groups and families and expert guides provide a rich description of the area. 

Take a Residential School Tour

The Shingwauk Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie was operational from 1875 until 1970. Join Thrive Tours to see the residential school grounds and buildings, now part of the Algoma University campus, and learn about the residential school system. You will hear about the devastation the system had on the Indigenous people in the not-so-distant past and the inter-generational trauma affecting communities and families today. If you are touring with kids, information is shared in a truthful yet age-appropriate way. Learn about what is being done for healing and restoration and what you can do in this process as an ally.

Hike to See the Agawa Rock Pictographs

Take a beautiful drive along the Trans Canada Highway to see the Agawa Rock Pictographs in Lake Superior Provincial Park. Located about 1 hour North of Sault Ste. Marie, this 0.5km loop trail will take you right along the shore of Lake Superior to the Indigenous archaeological site where you can see sacred Ojibwe paintings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The hike is rated as moderate, but some scrambling over rocks is required. To see the pictographs, you’ll need to walk out on a sloped rock shelf beside the lake. The views are definitely worth it, but please take caution as the rocks can be slippery!

Enjoy a Meal at Chummy’s Grill

After working up an appetite during your Sault Ste. Marie adventures, stop by Chummy’s Grill for a delicious meal. This local Indigenous-owned and operated family restaurant has a wide variety of delicious food available. The restaurant has a great kids menu and even has all-day breakfast (except Friday 4-8pm). While here, make sure you spend some time admiring the wood carvings located throughout the restaurant.

Now it’s time to get your family and come explore Bawating! With so many different ways to experience Indigenous culture in the Soo, you’ll want to keep coming back for more.

And read our blog post from summer 2021 about spending a day with the family in Sault Ste. Marie here!

From stunning Sandy Beaches to some of the best mountain biking in Ontario, Sault Ste. Marie is the perfect Summer Destination

By Sault Tourism

Enjoy The best Sandy Beaches In Ontario

Sault Ste. Marie has some of the best sandy beaches in Ontario. Our beaches are incredible! All around our city you’ll find perfectly beautiful, long sandy beaches with crystal clear water that are perfect for a swim, a play in the sand or just to relax and soak up the sun. Great beaches are just one reason Sault Ste. Marie is the perfect place for a summer vacation.

Click here to check out 6 of the best sandy beaches in Ontario, all just a short drive from Sault Ste. Marie.  

Discover Awesome new Mountain Biking Trails

Sault Ste. Marie is the best destination for mountain biking in Ontario. Discover trails for every age, ability or style from jump and flow trails to enduro-style trails carved out of the Canadian Shield. Come and see why Sault Ste. Marie is being called Ontario’s new bike town. 

Visit the Hiawatha Highlands, with over 40km of trails including 12km of newly built world-class trails — just a short ride from downtown. If you’re looking for more adrenaline, head to Bellevue Valley, where a 5km trail drops 200m into a beautiful valley of lush maple trees. Visit out new Mountain Bike page for more info.

Experience Lake Superior

The Edmund Fitzgerald lookout trail, in Pancake Bay Provincial Park, is the perfect day trip activity from Sault Ste. Marie, and the perfect way to experience Lake Superior.

Just an hour north of the city, it’s one of best lookout hikes in all of Ontario. A beautiful woodland walk through towering maple trees leads you to spectacular views of Lake Superior, as far out as the resting position of the Edmund Fitzgerald ship

Immerse yourself In Indigenous Culture

Traditionally known as Bawating (“the place of the rapids”), Sault Ste. Marie is a place of cultural importance. Follow this long weekend itinerary to experience and learn about Anishinaabe culture in our city. 

New to 2022, Thrive Tours will be offering a ‘Learn to Powwow‘ tour; a guided experience of vibrant celebrations of Indigenous life. Or if you are visiting in June, experience the Summer Moon Festival featuring real-time creation of large-scale public art. 

Visit our Indigenous Tourism page for more info. 

Take a bucket-list train ride

The Agawa Canyon Tour Train is one of north America’s iconic train rides and a Destination Canada signature experience. See the boreal forests, rivers, and waterfalls that inspired Canada’s most iconic artists – the Group of Seven, and if traveling in latter part of summer, witness some of the most incredible colours as the maple forests create a stunning palette of reds, oranges and yellows. 

This year’s tour season is tentatively planned for Aug. 1 through Oct. 10. More details on pricing and purchasing tickets will be available soon at the Agawa train website.

Enjoy so many unique events

Fun things are happening again! From Powwow tours with Thrive Tours, to the Summer Moon Festival and Rotary Fest, Sault Ste. Marie has so many fun and interesting events lined up for 2022. 

For the outdoor adventure enthusiast we have Crank The Shield, UT Stokely and the Superior Rocket

Stay up to date by visiting our Events page here!

Enjoy our Beautiful Outdoors

Nestled between Great Lakes Superior and Huron, Sault Ste. Marie is the perfect jumping off point to discover wild rivers, majestic channels, hidden coves, stunning waterfalls and more freshwater lakes than you could ever count. This is what makes us one of Canada’s top outdoor adventure destinations.

Take a tour with Canoes for Conservation, Blaq Bear Eco Adventures, Forest the Canoe and Thrive Tours or do it yourself. Our website will give you all you need to begin your adventure, as well as some Travel Inspiration stories to inspire you!

Relax, Dine and Drink

After a day of adventuring you’ll want to refuel and recharge, and we have some great restaurants serving some fantastic food for any taste. From Syrian Shawarma to spicy Indian, delicious Italian or sizzling steak, the Sault has so many great restaurants

We also brew our own beer! Northern Superior and Outspoken offer craft beers with names including ‘Rabbit’s Foot’, ‘Maglia Rosa’ and ‘Gitche Gumee’. Great beers, great atmosphere equals great times. 

By Tourism Sault Ste. Marie

Sault Ste. Marie's Canal District is a newly restored part of the city that includes Restaurants, event spaces, the Train Station and more

Once a key industrial part of Sault Ste. Marie, the Canal District has been reimagined, restored and rebuilt to be one of Northern Ontario’s premier destinations for dining, entertainment and tourist attractions.

A new train station for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, built in a style that compliments the historic surrounding buildings, is just one of exciting developments to have happened that has revitalized a key area of the city. There is also a microbrewery, four restaurants, a gelato mill, an outdoor adventure store complete with indoor climbing wall, an exhibit centre-gallery, an outdoor event centre and a rink!

Keep reading to find out more about this exciting destination in the city.

The Machine Shop's Restaurants

The Machine Shop boasts three magnificent restaurants as well as a top notch win bar.

The Mill Steakhouse + Wine Bar is fine dining at its best; 45 day aged AAA Ribeyes, 16oz New York Striploin, Prime Rib and all with fresh ingredients, in an elegant setting with superb service and friendly atmosphere.

The Boiler Room is an easy, family-friendly pizzeria, offering freshly prepared wood-oven pizza in a relaxed steampunk style restaurant. Next door to the Boiler Room is a The Steamfitters Lounge; a unique space where you can enjoy the wood-fired pizza menu that is also available for private functions of up to 60 guests. 

The Blockhouse Pub

The Blockhouse Pub offers great pub-grub, large portions and a full array of beer including locally brewed Outspoken, which is brewed on site. Stop for all day breakfast or come in for a grab and go panini from their delicious deli! 

The Gelato Mill and Starbucks Coffee

The Gelato Mill offers fresh Starbucks coffee, lots of snack options including freshly made pastries and of course a variety of gelatos.  

Create your own ice cream sandwich, indulge in a slushy, or stop by for a delicious treat and fresh cup of joe.

The Outfitters

The Outfitters is located inside the new train station building. It offers a wide variety of outdoor equipment and top brand clothing and accessories for your entire family – gear and clothing for adults & kids! You can climb our indoor rock wall or shop for a canoe, kayak or paddle board. Enjoy the amazing art by Indigenous artists Tomas Sinclair and John Laford.

The Train Station

A prominent feature of the Canal District is the newly build train station for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. The station is open and tickets can be purchased while the train is running during the summer and fall months. 

The Rink

The Rink is a covered outdoor skating rink that is available for hire or for public skates during the winter months. During the summer the rink turns into an events space (see below for more info on that). Check out the Rink’s website here for all the information you’ll need on using the ice!

Lots of great events

The Canal District hosts events throughout the year from live music and comedy through to beerfest events, Christmas events and summer outdoor car shows and outdoor roadshows. Check out out the latest events here!

The Mill Market Farmers Market

The Mill Market Farmers Market is conveniently located just steps away from Canal District and Machine Shop. Grown, raised or crafted by Northern Ontario’s farmers, ranchers, fishermen, artists and artisans; Mill Market brings the best of our lakes, fields and forests to the heart of the historic Canal District in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. From farm to table, 

The Mill Market is open Saturdays year-round 9am – 2pm, and Wednesdays 11:30am – 2pm (June 29th through September 7th, 2022). Visit this website for more information!

Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site

Just a short walk or bike ride away from the Machine Shop and train station is the actual Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic site

The Canal, built in 1895, was the world’s longest lock, the first to operate using electricity and the last link in an all-Canadian navigational chain from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Superior. Today, the Canal is a great spot for boat-watching, picnics and a variety of other activities. Let a Parks Canada interpreter introduce you to the canal’s fascinating history, rent a Fat Bike, check out the new visitor centre.

For more information on the Canal District visit this website!

Camping, kayaking, mountain biking and more!

One of the perks of living in Ontario is that this beautiful province can be enjoyed all year round. With an abundance of natural beauty and opportunities for adventure, there’s one question every Ontarian has to face — where should my next staycation be?

That being said, current restrictions are keeping us from going farther afield, and anyone itching to escape their surroundings and step into nature is encouraged to stay as close to home as possible. But when we are allowed to freely travel again and explore all Ontario has to offer, you might want to consider looking north.

Sault Ste. Marie (affectionately nicknamed “the Soo”) is the place to go for unforgettable experiences right in your own backyard.

Nestled in between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, the Soo is just an hour by plane from the GTA (or a scenic seven-hour road trip) and has something to offer every adventurer.

From camping and fishing to kayaking, biking and much more, it can be hard to know where to start. Arriving with a convenient three-day itinerary like this one will help you make the most of the Soo for when it’s safe to go exploring once again.

Day 1: A Healthy Mix Of The Outdoors & City Life

Mountain Bike The Hiawatha Highlands

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By Tourism Sault Ste. Marie

here are three suggestions for your long weekend vacation in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

The Anishinaabe peoples of the Great Lakes traditionally called this area ‘Bawating’, meaning ‘place of the rapids’. Surrounded by an abundance of natural resources, Indigenous communities have gathered here since time immemorial. Sault Ste. Marie has since grown into a city rich in historical significance. Exciting Indigenous Tourism options in Sault Ste. Marie provide many ways to experience and learn about Anishinaabe culture. 

No.1 Whitefish Island: The Original Meeting Place

The first stop on a cultural learning experience must be Whitefish Island, located on the shores of the historic St. Marys Rapids. 

A leisurely stroll on the well-marked trails will take you past various places of interest with information about the land. Be respectful and visit with reverence: This remains the traditional territory and meeting grounds of the Anishinaabe, including local Batchewana First Nation. 

Meet up with a local fishing guide and experience fly fishing in the legendary St. Marys River Rapids to experience the ancient fishery. A list of local guides can be found here.

The View Restaurant provides Sault Ste. Marie waterfront dining with views of the rapids and great whitefish entrées.

No.2 Downtown Sault Ste. Marie Indigenous Experiences

Paddle back in time in a big canoe with Canoes for Conservation on the St. Marys River. Drift along the ancient Anishinaabe community and learn of their deep-rooted connection with the river. 

The canoe ride ends near the Shingwauk Residential School Centre, an integral part of the Algoma University campus. Learn firsthand the important impacts of human perseverance and resilience from expert interpretive historians. 

A walking tour of Sault Ste. Marie’s downtown core reveals various Indigenous artist murals located on city buildings. 

A tasty dinner can be had at Chummy’s Grill; this family owned and operated Indigenous restaurant offers traditional meals. 

No.3 Lake Superior Coast, Indigenous Roots

Pack for the day and travel north on the Trans Canada Highway along the beautiful Lake Superior coastline to Lake Superior Provincial Park. 

Just north of Agawa Bay, park your car and hike a rocky trail to the Agawa Rock Pictographs—a collection of ancient paintings that remain important to the Anishinaabe. A sacred ceremonial site at Agawa Rock is still used by Batchewana First Nation today. 

Explore the Agawa Bay Visitor Centre and take a walk along the picturesque beach. 

On your return trip, stop in at Agawa Crafts and the Canadian Carver, a unique roadside attraction featuring handmade Indigenous crafts. The carvings, moccasins, art and pottery will inspire and are unique keepsakes.

Finally, enjoy authentic Métis cuisine like tourtiere or bannock at the Voyageurs Lodge and Cookhouse. This roadhouse style cookhouse offers hearty portions, friendly service, old log decor and a jovial atmosphere, with indoor and outdoor dining options and access to the amazing beaches of Batchewana Bay. 

By Lindsay Davies

Explore the rich culture and Indigenous history of Sault Ste. Marie with these insider tips

Known as Bawating (meaning rapids in Ojibway), the city of Sault Ste. Marie is an original meeting ground for the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. There is so much to experience and learn in this historic Northern Ontario city, so dive in with these incredible Indigenous experiences!

Walk Around Whitefish Island
A popular spot for a leisurely stroll or a beautiful sunset walk, Whitefish Island is the perfect spot to take in the beauty of the St Marys River. For thousands of years and to this day, this has been a place of importance for the Ojibway as they were put here to maintain the land and water while living in harmony with nature. Elders from Batchawana share that when the Creator told the crane to choose a homeland, he flew and flew in search of it, settling in Bawating as there was an abundance of fish to sustain himself and the First Nations people.

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By Sheri Minardi

Whitefish Island is a rich cultural site in downtown Sault Ste. Marie.

A very rich cultural island teaming with history, flora and fauna lies within Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario just below the International Bridge with the St. Mary’s rapids flowing through it. This island is Whitefish Island that is a short walk across the Sault Ste. Marie Locks. It is an historical site, formed more than 2,000 years ago as an Indigenous settlement. Trading was done on the island and was a major source of food due to the abundance of fish. In 1997, the island was returned to the Batchawana Band, who maintain the island today.

The Attikamek & Whitefish Island Trails are a wonderful area to explore. At the crossing to the island, you cross and large bridge that leads to the Batchewana Band’s sign welcoming you to the island.

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By Stephen Johnson

Trains, Trails, and Ancient Art

Driving cross-country and thinking of skipping Ontario? Here’s why you shouldn’t. This family found some fascinating roads into Canada’s past, and its rich natural beauty.

We recently took a family trip by car from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to our home in Ottawa. At first, I was nervous that the trip would be punctuated by continuous demands of “Are we there yet?” and hour after hour of uninspiring scenery.   

I could not have been more wrong. The scenery all along the route was quite beautiful. Things got jaw-droppingly gorgeous once we hit Rossport, Ontario. We were treated to kilometre after kilometre of landscapes that were straight out of a Group of Seven painting. Still more beauty awaited us in the Sault Ste. Marie area.

Our first stop of the day was at Aguasabon Falls and Gorge. We followed the trail and could hear the waterfalls before we saw them.
 
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By Adam Leith Gollner
 
Nestled in the landscapes that inspired the Group of Seven, there’s an even more monumental work of art—spanning centuries and inviting the deepest questions
 
I’m standing on a narrow ledge of rock overhanging Lake Superior.
 

A sheer 15-story-high cliff soars above me, its crystalline granite face adorned with the most important, and most mysterious, public work of art in Canada. The silhouette of a creature at eye level peers back out. It doesn’t have eyes, but it sees me. Its eternal head is cocked to the side in curiosity, as though trying to make out whatever it is that anyone gazing upon it is also trying to fathom. A red ochre chimera, it has large feline paws, quizzical bullhorns, and the body of a dragon, with sharp spines ridging its back and tail. 

Meet Mishipeshu: the Great Lynx, the Underwater Wildcat, the Fabulous Night Panther. This pictograph is an enigma that has stood here for eons. And Mishipeshu isn’t alone; there are over a hundred other images at Agawa Rock, a sacred lakeside site located in Lake Superior Provincial Park, around 150 km north of Sault Ste. Marie. 

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