Travel through time when you visit the gateway to the north; the beautiful community of Sault Ste Marie.
Sitting near the mouth of the St. Mary’s River, Sault Ste. Marie is a community with a rich local history steeped in the steel and shipping industries. Opened in 1962, the three-arch Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge spans the St. Mary’s River, connecting the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
The reason why my friend and I were here: to cross one of those adventures we’d wanted to do for years off our bucket list – The Agawa Canyon Tour Train is one of the great train trips in North America.
And what is not to like about trains, the look, the feel, the smells and sounds come together in a symphony of delight. Our anticipation was soon to be sated. We had arrived in the Soo (as affectionately known) on Tuesday evening after a 6 hour drive through some spectacular scenery of its own from Orillia. We had allowed a day for rest and relaxation before heading out again only this time with an engineer driving.
This one-day wilderness train tour takes you 183 km north of Sault Ste. Marie, over towering trestles and along pristine northern lakes and rivers, to the Agawa Canyon created more than 1.2 billion years ago.
Since we did not know the Soo that well, we decided to go into town the day before the trip to suss out where the train station was in order to arrive on time (we tend to get lost a lot, I don’t know why). After two failed attempts (one at the hands of a tourism info guide), we found the station and confirmed we were indeed booked for the next day, would we like to have our tickets so that we could avoid the line-up the next morning and just wait on the platform. Would we?? Yes! She also told us where to park the next morning as our compartment number boarded to the right of the station. Fantastic! See, sometimes it pays to scout ahead.
The next morning we were up before the sun to be at the station for an 8 o’clock departure. It was a cloudy day but we were hoping the sun would burn off the clouds once we reached the Canyon floor. Unfortunately, the train’s departure was delayed by an hour due to an electrical problem but this did not dampen our enthusiasm and when it appeared blowing it’s whistle, the crowd cheered and we were off.
We appreciated that everyone was given a guide so we knew where we were. Also, there was an audio guide that played intermittently throughout the train, giving useful information about the sights and some history of the Soo. A few of the highlights included spectacular vistas of Lake Superior and a thrilling ride across a train trestle bridge.
Soon enough, we were at the Agawa Canyon Park. We had an hour and a half to explore. We chose to do the Lookout stairs which is somewhat not for amateurs but we did it anyways. High-fives all around. The view was well worth it. As we had some time left we decided to walk to the Black Beaver Falls. We didn’t have enough time left to go to the Bridal Falls which we passed by on the way in. We spent the rest of our time slowly making our way back to the train and taking a few photos and taking in the scenery. And yes, the sun did come out a bit to make our day.
We heard the woot of the train whistle and knew it was time to board again. The next few hours were spent with enjoyable conversation with our fellow travellers. We met a lovely couple from Wisconsin who were retired and had been married over 50 years, no small feat I assure you. We pulled into the station tired but content from our day’s journey and having crossed off another must do off the bucket list.
As a side note: Group of Seven Painters came to the Algoma area from 1918–1923, including Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, J.E.H. MacDonald and Arthur Lismer. They rented a boxcar and outfitted it like a cabin which was shunted to sidings near choice painting locations. From there they would go along the track on foot and by canoe throughout the wilderness. Their paintings became famous, as did the area they painted.