Strategically situated beside St Mary’s River, the tortuous link between lakes Superior and Huron, industrial SAULT STE MARIE – more popularly The Soo – sits opposite the Michigan town of the same name and sees constant two-way traffic, with two sets of tourists keen to see how the other lot lives. The Soo, 300km from Sudbury, is northern Ontario’s oldest community, originally settled by Ojibwa fishing parties. The French called these Ojibwa Saulteux (“people of the falls”) and the Jesuit missionaries who followed added the Christian sobriquet to give the town its present name. Initially, The Soo flourished as a gateway to the fur-rich regions inland, but it was the construction of a lock and canal in the nineteenth century that launched its career as a Great Lakes port and industrial centre, churning out pulp, paper and steel. Too industrial to be pretty,
Some 2km long and three blocks wide, The Soo’s downtown core runs parallel to the waterfront to either side of the main drag, Queen Street East. All the principal sights and most visitor facilities are located here, the pick of which stretch along the waterfront, but its real appeal is as the starting point for a splendid wilderness train ride on the Algoma Central Railway.Read More
The Algoma Central Railway
The Algoma Central Railway
The 476km-long Algoma Central Railway (ACR) was constructed in 1901 to link the Soo’s timber plants with the forests of the interior. the first recreational users were members of the group of Seven, who shunted up and down the track in a converted boxcar, stopping to paint whenever the mood took them. the ACr’s timber days are long gone, but today the railway offers one of Ontario’s finest excursions, with the train snaking through a wonderful wilderness of deep ravines, secluded lakes and plunging gorges. to see it all, sit on the left-hand side – otherwise you’ll end up looking at an awful lot of rock. there are several tours to choose from, though only two stand out, and all depart from the Algoma Central railway terminal, in downtown Soo at 129 Bay St and dennis (t 705 946 7300, t 1 800 242 9287, w agawacanyontourtrain.com).
The Agawa Canyon Tour Train takes a day to cover the first 200km of track and back (late June to mid-Oct departs daily at 8am, returns 6pm; $85; $105 in the fall). Reservations are strongly advised and essential in the autumn, when the leaves turn. A two-hour stop within the canyon’s 180m-high walls allows for a lunch break and a wander around the well-marked nature trails, which include a lookout post from where the rail line appears as a thin silver thread far below. Unless you are properly equipped don’t miss the train back – the canyon gets very cold at night, even during the summer, and the blackflies are merciless.
During the winter, the Snow Train (early Feb to mid-March Sat only; departs 8am, returns 5pm; $80) travels a little further north. it passes right through the canyon to the dramatic exit, where the walls are only 15m apart, before returning to The Soo.
The ACR also runs a regular passenger train from the Soo to the remote francophone township of Hearst three times weekly. Passengers on this train (commonly called the “moose meat special” on account of its popularity with hunters and trappers) get off and on at various points along the line, paying as little as $22 for a short journey or up to $155 for the trip to Hearst. Schedule details are available from the ACr, which also has information about renting boxcars and details of the several outback lodges that dot the line.