Saulte Ste Marie, Michigan – The American Soo

by Christian Heaven

The Sault Ste. Marie area started out as Ojibwa territory.  Settled along what the French would name as the St. Mary’s River, the Ojibway referred to the area as Bahweting, or the Gathering Place. Europeans started arriving in the 1600s, with the French establishing the first mission in 1669 and naming the settlement Saulte Ste Marie, roughly translated from the archaic French into modern English as, “the Rapids of the Saint Mary’s River.”

The area underwent rapid changes following the arrival of Europeans.  The French maintained a mission and fur trading outpost for nearly 100 years before losing most of their North American territorial possessions, including Sault Ste Marie, to the British, as a result of the French and Indian War in the 1750s.  The British expanded their garrison during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, and maintained claimant of the settlement (on both what is now the American and Canadian sides of the River) until 1820.  The peace treaty that ended the War of 1812, as well as subsequent treaties between the United States and British-Canada defined the border at the River and separated the two “Soos.” By 1820, Saulte Ste Marie, Michigan, was a separate town, in a separate country, from its sister city of the same name on the north side of the River.  The area however remained part of a long-disputed Canadian-American border, ultimately settled by the  1836 Treaty of Washington, confirming control of all the Eastern Upper Peninsula, including Sugar and Drummond Islands, to the United States.

1797 saw construction of the first Lock, which was destroyed by Americans in the War of 1812. 1855 saw the lock finally get replaced by the State of Michigan, and another lock in 1881. The Poe lock replaced the State locks in 1896, and in 1914 and 1919, the Davis and Sabin locks were installed. 1943 ushered in the MacArthur lock, and the old Poe lock was replaced with a new Poe lock in 1968

The International Bridge was opened in 1962 between the US and Canadian Sault Ste Marie’s. In 1946, what would become Lake Superior State University was sold to the State of Michigan, becoming its own entity by 1970 and being granted full university status in 1987.