Have you ever tried moose radish? No? Then travel to Ontario, to Sault Ste. Marie along the shores of the St. Mary’s River! Often referred to as the Soo, Sault Ste. Marie sits just north of the U.S. border.

This bustling waterfront town is the perfect home base for accessing the great outdoors while also taking advantage of all of the amenities that an urban city has to offer. Moose radish appears on local menus and is a blueberry and horseradish jam – delicious with many dishes.

The Soo is currently home to approximately 75,000 people but was originally the meeting ground for indigenous tribes, the Objibwe being the most predominant. The St. Mary’s River, creating the southern boundary of the Soo, is where Lake Superior flows into Lake Huron. The variations in the depths of the water create beautiful rapids and the river is home to an abundance of white fish. Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best rainbow trout fishing in the world is in the rapids of the Canadian Soo.” While the rapids are very different nowadays than they were before, the fishing records are still mind-boggling; records indicate 500 fish an hour.

The Soo is also famous for its canal – the Sault St. Marie Canal. Now a historic site, the canal is home to the first electric-operated lock in the world and at one point it was also the busiest canal in the world! Today, boats wishing to pass through the locks can do so free of charge.

Agawa Canyon Tour Train

To escape the city and step into nature, take the Agawa Canyon Tour Train to Agawa Canyon Park. As you travel towards the canyon you will wind your way through breathtaking landscapes of thickly wooded forest and exquisite lakes; scenery so stunning that it inspired a group of Canadian artists, the Group of Seven, to depict its beauty in their art.

The Group of Seven were particularly drawn to the depth of the topography in this region where the Canadian Shield starts. The Canadian Shield stretches from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean and boasts the largest expanse of Archean rock on the planet – rock that originated millions of years ago as continents began to form. At mile 92 of the train tour, you will be witness to one of the painting sites of the Group of Seven. As the train continues, catch a glimpse of Bridal Veil Falls – the inspiration for a number of paintings completed by various members of the group.

At the end of the train tour, experience the beauty of the landscape firsthand. The train runs for four hours and 114 miles and stops last at Agawa Canyon Park where you will have access to trails, can enjoy a picnic or take it all in from the lookout. Along the way, listen to stories of the history of the region; points of interest are narrated as you pass each point. The Agawa Canyon area has seen many occupants – the Objibwe, fur traders, explorers and businessmen, to name a few – and is rich with history.

Fall is a particularly popular time to see the canyon as the trees are all changing color. The last two weeks of September and the first week of October usually boast the best and brightest fall foliage. It is important to book early if you are interested in taking the tour in the fall. However, no matter what the time of year, there is plenty of beauty to behold.

 
The scenic St. Mary’s River offers amazing fishing virtually year round; sample the iconic waterway’s multi-species fishery, including four species of salmon and spectacular steelhead, northern pike, walleye, and small-mouthed bass.
 
The Group of Seven, also sometimes known as the Algonquin School, was a group of Canadian landscape painters from 1920 to 1933, originally consisting of Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley. The Moments of Algoma project has placed interpretive installations at key points along the way the Group of Seven painted.

Moments of Algoma

After witnessing the beauty of the landscape that inspired the artists of the Group of Seven, learn more about them by seeing “Moments of Algoma” at the Heritage Discovery Centre in Sault Ste. Marie. The Group of Seven got their start nearly 100 years ago when they spent a month painting at Agawa Canyon Park. “Moments of Algoma,” a theatrical play, gives insight into the life of Lawren Harris, one of the Group of Seven’s founding members. Afterwards, you will be treated to dinner and dessert in the Old Stone House by the hearth – an evening you won’t want to miss! Tickets are $55 and shows run monthly in August, September and October.

Scenic Drive

For more of the great outdoors, drive from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay – named one of the Top 10 drives in America! Towns tumble down the sides of the highway like small stones found in the clear waters of the lake. You can expect the drive to take approximately eight hours but you might also want to budget time for a few stops along the way. Both Wawa and Rainbow Falls Provincial Park make for great stopping points; you may also want to consider stopping at Terrace Bay – a popular spot among tourists.

The Algoma Central Railway offers a train to tour Agawa Canyon in the summer, fall and winter months and during late September and October to see the changing colors; in December, January and February it is known as the “snow train.” Photo courtesy of Agawa Canyon Tour Train

Canadian Bushplane Heritage Center

Visit the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Center to learn more about the small planes that helped affect mighty change! There are 29 planes on display, most of which have been donated. These planes helped to open up the north where there were no landing strips; they are small enough to land in short areas or on water. The center is open from mid-May to mid-October, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m daily.

The Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site

Stop in to see the amazing homes that give visitors insight into the way life was more than 100 years ago. The site consists of an interactive Heritage Discovery Center and two of the oldest stone buildings located northwest of Toronto – the Ermatinger Old Stone House and the Clergue Blockhouse. The Ermatinger Old Stone House is restored to depict the domestic and professional life of Charles Oakes Ermatinger and other prominent residents and visitors of the house between 1808 and 1870. The Clergue Blockhouse served as the home of industrialist Francis Hector Clergue from 1894-1908.

The Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, located on the north bank of the St. Mary’s River in Sault Ste. Marie, is dedicated to preserving the history of bush flying and forest protection in Canada. It was founded in 1987 by a group of local volunteers to preserve the province’s history in bush planes and aerial firefighting.

For visitor information, visit the following:

saulttourism.com
bushplane.com
ecnhs.com
momentsofalgoma.ca
lakesuperiorpark.ca/index.php/park-info/visitor-centre
voyageurslodge.com
northernontario.com
wildernessisland.com

The Agawa Canyon Train runs daily through Oct. 15. Tickets range from $100-$125 for adults. Check This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Local artist Eileen Halfpenny will give a full day’s art lessons and guidance on the train about the Group of Seven. Check watercolorworldofehalfpennyart.com.

Cynthia Calvert
Author: Cynthia CalvertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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A trained journalist with a masters degree from Lamar University, a masters from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as well as extensive coursework toward a masters of science in psychology from the University of New Orleans, Calvert founded the Tribune Newspapers in 2007. Her experiences as an investigative, award winning reporter (She won Journalist of the Year from the Houston Press Club among many other awards for reporting and writing), professor and chair of the journalism department for Lone Star College-Kingwood and vice president of editorial for a large group of community weeklies provides her with a triple dose of bankable skills that cover every aspect of the journalism field. Solid reporting. Careful interviews. Respect and curiosity for people and places.