shoreLINES: Stories from our guides and guardians

Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site

By Carly Wetzl

Being on the frontline with boaters and visitors offers lock staff a unique perspective, so, I asked them to share some of their insightful and interesting experiences.

Although the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site is administered by Parks Canada, the lockmasters and line handlers, who operate the lock, are employees of the City of Sault Ste. Marie—part of an arrangement made when the modern recreational lock was built in the late 1990s.

Lockmaster Adam at the operations panel Lockmaster Adam at the operations panel
© Parks Canada

The lock staff team consists of five members; two lockmasters, a vacation relief lockmaster and two line handlers. Steve and Adam are the full-time Lockmasters, with 15 years and 2 years experience respectively, and Chris has been the Vacation Relief Lockmaster for the past two seasons.

A typical day working the lock starts with checking the approaches and getting everything ready. According to Chris, “once the lock is ready we wait for someone on a boat to call on the radio or pull up to the Blue Zone, so we can lock them through”. When not locking through boats, staff clean around the lock. While working at the lock operations panel, staff often talk to site visitors and boats traversing the lock.

Steve and Adam both list talking to people from all over the world as their favourite part of the job, and being outside, of course. It is not unusual for ducks and fish to go for a ride in the lock. Observers may be concerned for the safety of the animals, but the lock staff report that “ducks float”!


  • The lock operates without the use of pumps (Ask Parks Canada staff to show you “how” using the model in the Visitor Centre)
  • The height difference between Lakes Superior and Huron is 6.4 meters (21 feet)
  • It takes approximately 5.7 million litres (1.5M gallons) of water to fill the lock
  • The number of boats locking through in a day is completely weather dependent. In 2013, the busiest summer day saw 56 boats pass through the lock, the least busiest day had only 4.
  • Freighters lock through the SOO Locks on the American side. Since 1998 the Sault Canal operates as a recreational lock for tour boats and smaller watercrafts
  • Locking through is free

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