Pasty.com’s Day in History for October 4th says that Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan was founded on this day in 1641. Michigan History Magazine expands on this, relating that French Jesuits Isaac Jogues and Charles Raymbault held the first Christian services in Michigan at Sault Ste. Marie on that date. As you’ll see in a moment, it’s not really possible to get a date for the founding of the Soo, but everyone has to have a birthday, right?
Of course the Soo Locks are the first thing most people think of when they think of the Soo. You can see a webcam of the locks, and while your browser may have a problem with the secure certificate they use, it’s a US government certificate and site so you’re probably safe. saultstemarie.com relates that that the first lock was built way back in in 1797 by the Northwest Fur Company. It was just 38 feet long and remained in use until it was destroyed in the War of 1812, forcing boats again to portage around the rapids. Read on for much more.
Sault Ste. Marie is the oldest city in Michigan, and among the oldest cities in the United States. Over the course of history, the flags of several sovereign nations have flown over the Sault.
Over 2,000 years ago, Native Americans began to gather here for the wealth of fish and fur found along the rushing waters of the wide, turbulent river that linked the Great Lakes of Superior and Huron. Spring and fall were important seasons for these original settlers, and they called the area “Bahweting,” or “The Gathering Place.”
…In the 1600s, French missionaries and fur traders began to venture into the beautiful territory. The traders began calling the wild area Sault du Gastogne. In 1668, the legendary Jesuit missionary and explorer Fr. Jacques Marquette renamed this burgeoning European settlement Sault Ste. Marie, in honor of the Virgin Mary—the first “city” in the Great Lakes region.
While there is some debate on the exact meaning of “Sault,” scholars of early French note that the word translates into jump, referring to the place where one needs to “jump”, or put into the St. Mary’s River. This translation relates to the treacherous rapids and cascades that fall over 20 feet from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower lakes. Hundreds of years ago, this prohibited boat traffic and necessitated an overland portage from one lake to the other. This is how Portage Avenue, the main street running along the river, acquired its name.
Some other good sites for area history include Sault Historic Sites, the History & Culture of the Sault Tribe, and Sault Ste Marie, Michigan in Wikipedia. You can get links to Sault businesses and website and also articles for the Soo at absolutemichigan.com/Sault including Sault Ste. Marie: The Gathering Place, which offers more in depth history and a larger version of the photo above. Other good sites for modern day information are the Sault Area Chamber of Commerce, Sault Ste Marie at michigan.org, the Soo Evening News and the EUP News blog.
You can see some pictures from the Soo at saultstemarie on Michigan in Pictures. Seeking Michigan has some great old photos of the Soo from the Archives of Michigan, but the best I found were from the Facebook page of I Love Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, particularly the History of Sault Ste Marie Michigan in Photographs and this gallery from Soo photographer Glenn W. Gregg. There’s also 200+ Soo photos in the Absolute Michigan group on Flickr.
If you grew up in the Soo (which I didn’t) I bet you’ll love this video featuring photos & Bob Seger’s Main Street from ILovetheSoo. While I enjoyed that one a lot, the one below features some of those great photos from Glenn Gregg.