Thursday, August 23, 2012


Burnt and Rebuilt, Now Faced With Creative Destruction...

In 1798, the Northwest Fur Company completed construction of the 1st navigation lock at the Sault. It was only 38' long but for the first time ever, canoes could bypass some part of the rapids without having to be carried past them. During the War of 1812 the Americans burnt this British lock and once again, everything had to be hauled to and from Superior entirely overland, no matter which country you were in.

In preparation for this trip, a friend mentioned he thought that on the Canadian side there was some remnant left of this canal. I determined to find it.

As on the American side, Sault Ste. Marie Ontario has built a splendid park along its canal, highlighting both the cultural and natural history of the area. Now, you'd think one set of locks on the Saint Mary's would suffice. But in 1870 the paddlewheeler Chicora was on its way to help put down the Red River uprising and the Americans refused to allow the boat through their locks, in what would become known as the "Chicora Incident". Subsequently, the Canadians built their own lock, which opened in 1895 and is today used for recreational vessels.

Anyway, in my search for the rumored remnant, I started at the Canadian  Canal Park's Visitor's Center. There I was told that what I sought is on the grounds of the St. Mary's Paper Co., whose property is up for auction. I was told the park had offered to maintain the site of the historic lock but that proposal was "up in the air". The young man didn't think much of my chances of seeing the thing. Security on the property is tight, as is often the case when a place is trending towards industrial wasteland. It's only after the landscape is completely wasted that security goes lax.

Undaunted, I asked the young man if he knew exactly where the site was located. With a wave of his arm he pointed across the canal and said: "Someplace over there."

I decided to ask around some more. At the International Visitor's Center/Currency Exchange, my question was met with quizzical looks until a nice young lady dug up an old guidebook. In that was both a picture of the lock and a street address, which as it happened was just down the block from where we stood. Once again I sallied forth in my pursuit of historical remnant and lo & behold, there it was, in all its arcane glory:

Turns out, this is a reconstruction of the lock burnt by the Americans in 1814, rebuilt by the Canadians some years later.

This reconstruction of the first lock ever constructed on the St. Mary's River has now lasted more than 8 times longer than did the original and you'd like to think that'd make it worth saving from the creative destruction so touted these days by Job Creators.

But first, the good citizens of Sault Ste. Marie Ontario best figure out exactly where the thing is...


Fish Cam!

My timing at the Soo was good, so I got to take a walk through Lake Superior StateUniversity's Fisheries & Wildlife Management's hatchery, which runs a research station from a portion of Sault Ste. Marie's historic powerhouse. Maybe it's just the fisherman in me, but when I spy a fish hatchery...

The hydro-electric plant on the American side of the Soo is a landmark made of white pine, steel and red sandstone quarried from the digging of the canal. At a quarter mile long, 80' wide and with 74 horizontal shaft turbines to generate electricity, at the time of its completion in 1902 this powerhouse was 2nd in size only to the one at Niagara Falls.

Water flows through the place at nearly seven miles per hour or ten feet per second and while that doesn't seem like a lot when you're stuck somewhere in traffic, as a guy who's waded his share of rivers I'm here to tell you that's some serious current flow. And from the bridge, you can see that in the water is the last place you'd want to be, not to mention ending up being run through those turbines...

But we'd not have paused here together if it weren't for the fish hatchery.

LSSU's Aquatic Research Center is staffed by undergrads working towards their degrees. Along with conducting fundamental research, they raise tens of thousands of Atlantic Salmon each year for release into the St. Mary's River and other places throughout the State.

The tanks are kept covered mighty early in the fish's development 'cause the little buggers have learned they can jump. And when I say Atlantic Salmon can jump:

By the time these salmon have reached a couple inches long, they're also incredibly fast. With the cover of the tank removed, it's quite the thing to see them move en masse from one end of the tanks to the other like dark lightning darting across an opaque sky.

These students at Lake Superior State University's Aquatic research Center represent the next wave of informed citizens that'll help lead us out from the ecological wilderness we've mired ourselves in since at least the birth of the Industrial Age. They need all the support they can get and provided you've the means and the inclination, I suggest you check their website for a way to do that.

Meanwhile, for those of us endlessly fascinated be watching fish do their fishy thing, there's this. The camera is located on the far side of the powerhouse and shows mature salmon congregated in their natal waters.

Go on, wade through the necessary fund-raising advertisement.

It's well worth it, during daytime hours:


Iroquois Point

Down from the Soo and offering a vantage point to view where Superior joins the St. Mary's River is Iroquois Point. Mostly, people visit here while on their way to somewhere else because the spot boasts an attractive lighthouse and grounds, which is a magnetic draw for many traveling along the lake.

From the open waters of Whitefish Bay, the confluence of Superior into the St. Mary's River is a dangerous place, with safe passage being only a narrow channel between the reef at Gros Cap on the Canadian side and the rocks off Iroquois Point on the American. Many ships have foundered there.

Light first shone from a wooden tower at Iroquois Point in 1856, immediately following the opening of the shipping canal at Sault St. Marie and since then, a light station has remained a fixture overlooking this treacherous stretch of lake.

But the place has a more substantive historical importance than first meets the eye. In the Algonquian language, it's called Nadouenigoning, roughly translated into Place of Iroquois Bones.

At least partly provoked by European interests in the fur trade and influenced by the introduction of white folk's weaponry, for a hundred years or more the Iroquois waged war with their neighbors to the west, including the Ojibwa who were firmly established on the Superior Basin. This conflict stymied the French fur trade in the region and many attempts were made by the French to broker peace between the various tribes. Nothing permanent was achieved.

Then in 1662, the Ojibwa settled things pretty much once and for all with the Iroquois, at least along Superior.

A war party of Iroquois and their allies set out to confront a gathering of Tribal Bands at Chequamegon Bay, in what's now Wisconsin. To get there they had to pass unnoticed through traditional Ojibwa territory and they set up camp for the night near the Sault on a secluded beach. Early in the morning a group of Ojibwa warriors surprised the Iroquois while they slept and annihilated them. The Iroquois never again ventured into Superior territory.

The European fur trade on Superior opened wide, while Iroquois bones lay as bleached sentinels upon the sand at Nadouenigoning for years.


What's in a Name?

In most places, the local Sheriff is either a villain or a hero, depending upon which side of the law you happen to be on at the moment.

Still, I had to wonder about the chances of a candidate for local law enforcement whose name so thoroughly fills the bill:

As it turns out, Rambo went down to defeat in the early August GOP primary. Smote by the incumbent Sheriff.

Do you suppose there'll be a sequel?


  1. Nice site! I am loving it!! Will come back again ??taking you feeds also, Thanks.

  2. Thank-you. The next three months should be the best of it...