Die Stromschnellen von St Marie (The Rapids Of St Mary), Frank Buchser, 1868
By kind permission of the Kunsthaus Art Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland
This website was created by teacher Peter White for the Algoma District School Board
Up until 1855 when the first lock was built there was no way to get ships full of goods through the Sault Ste. Marie rapids. The difference in height between lake Superior and St. Mary's river made trying to sail it like a wild roller coaster ride with no safety straps for the sailors!
Before the locks were there, the only people who would dare go through the rapids were First Nations and Métis who knew exactly where their canoe could safely go. Below is a picture of a canoe shooting the rapids in 1909.
When a ship enters one of the locks it is "locked up" between St. Mary's River and Lake Superior and water is pumped in or let out until it is safe for the ship to sail on. Today there are four American locks and one Canadian lock where the rapids used to be.
Courtesy Norm Tufford, greatlakes-seaway.com
Once ships could sail from St. Mary's river to lake Superior, the locks became very popular.
Can you guess how many ships are in the Poe lock in this picture from 1905? Count them before you roll over me!
What is the difference in water level between lake Superior and St. Mary's river?
How is the water pumped in or let out of the locks?
Why is there a difference between the water level of lake Superior and St. Mary's river?
Before the locks were there, how did people get goods from St. Mary's river to lake Superior?
How long did it take to build the locks? How many workers did it take?
Why did the Canadians build their lock in 1875?
Locks for Shipping