Every area has its own unique history, character and demeanor. In response to our guests’ inquiries, we have put together the following answers to commonly asked questions.

The Locks :

Q: How many locks are there?

A: There are five: the MacArthur, the Poe, the Davis, the Sabin and the Canadian. Of these, the Canadian is for pleasure craft only, and the Sabin is closed.

Q: How big are they?

A: Each of the Locks differs in size. In order to tell which is which, we’ve listed them in order of closest to the riverbank to farthest.

MacArthur Lock—named for General Douglas MacArthur

Constructed: 1943

Length: 800 ft.

Width: 80 ft.

Depth: 31 ft.

Water Volume: approximately 15 million gallons

Poe Lock—named for Colonel Orlando M. Poe

Constructed: 1968

Length: 1,200 ft.

Width: 110 ft.

Depth: 32 ft.

Water Volume: approximately 32 million gallons

Davis Lock—named for Colonel Charles E. L. B. Davis

Constructed: 1914

Length: 1,350 ft.

Width: 80 ft.

Depth: 23.1 ft.

Water Volume: approximately 19 million gallons

Sabin Lock—named for L. C. Sabin

Constructed: 1919

Length: 1,350 ft.

Width: 80 ft.

Depth: 23.1 ft.

Water Volume: approximately 19 million gallons

Q: How do the Locks work?
A: The machinery that opens and closes the gates to the Locks is powered by electricity generated by the river and produced in a hydroelectric plant located just beyond the Sabin Lock. The water itself is transferred through valves located at the bottom of the locks. These are gravity fed, using no electricity and no mechanical pumps. The water is simply allowed to seek its own level.

Q: What does it cost for a freighter to go through?

A: There is no charge. (The Locks is funded through tax dollars.)

Q: Is there a cost for a private boat?

A: No. Any boat can go through as long as there are two separate types of power on board.

Q: Are these the first locks on the river?

A: No. The Northwest Fur Company constructed a lock in 1797 on the Canadian side that was 38 feet long. It was blown up in the War of 1812. Then in the 1850s, two locks were constructed. From 1855 until 1877 boats were charged four cents per ton to go through. In 1877 this was reduced to three cents, and when the Locks were turned over to the Federal Government in 1881 they became toll free.

Q: How much can the big boats carry?

A: Each boat has a different capacity, but the large ones hold more than 72,000 tons. As the Captain and crew are often on a bonus system, they get paid more when they carry more than their contract dictates. They do like high water conditions so they can load more. In fact, each inch of additional cargo equals about 200 tons.

Q: How many boats go through in a year?

A: Around 12,000

The International Bridge

Q: How long is it?

A: 2.8 miles.

Q: How high is it?

A: At the highest point it is 145 feet above the ground.

Q: When was it built?

A: Construction started in September of 1960. The bridge opened on October 31, 1962.

Q: How did people get across before the bridge was built?

A: By ferry or railroad bridge.

Q: Can I walk across the bridge?

A: Non-motorized traffic is prohibited on all but one day each year. Every Fourth of July weekend the twin Saults hosts the International Bridge Walk.

The St. Mary’s River:

Q: Where does the river come from and where does it go?

A: The River actually starts in Lake Superior and ends up in Lake Huron. The total distance is close to 70 miles.

Q: What do people mean by the “upper or lower” river?

A: The upper river refers to the river that is located above, or west of the Locks. The lower river is located below, or east of the Locks. The upper river is actually 21 feet higher than the lower river.

Q: How deep is the River?

A: The depth varies widely along its course. Along the shipping channel the depth is maintained at 35 feet.

Q: What is that black dike that stretches from the Canadian side to the government hydroelectric plant underneath the bridge?

A: Those are called compensating gates. They serve as a way to help control the level of Lake Superior and the lower lakes as well. When Superior is above normal, and the hydroelectric plants can’t use any more water, the gates are opened to spill the excess water.

Q: What did the river look like before the locks and the gates were put in?

A: The River itself was a series of very treacherous rapids and cascades in this area. There is a 21-foot difference between the levels of Lakes Superior and Huron. Those 21 feet fell in just over ¾ of a mile in this section of the river.

Q: What is that little river that runs through Sault Ste. Marie?

A: It is a hydro canal that supplies water to the Edison Sault Hydroelectric Plant. It was built in 1904 and uses the natural drop in the terrain, and gravity, to feed the turbines that change waterpower into electricity.

Tahquamenon Falls

Q: Who named it?

A: We don’t really know the answer to that; but Longfellow wrote about the falls in his epic, “Hiawatha”: by the rushing Taq. Hiawatha built his canoe.”

Q: How big is the falls?

A: The falls are the second largest east of the Mississippi River. Only Niagara is larger. The falls themselves are in reality two separate sets. The Upper Falls are the largest with a width of over 200 feet and a height of 50 feet. Approximately 50,000 gallons of water flow over these falls per second. The Lower Falls are a series of five cascades that are found four miles downstream of the Upper Falls.

Q: What makes the river so dirty and muddy looking?

A: The Tahquamenon River gets its tea or root beer color from the tannin that is leached from the cedar, hemlock, and spruce found in the swamps that the River passes through.

Q: Why is there so much foam?

A: The foam has been characteristic of the river below the falls since time began, or close to it. It’s the soft water and the action of the falls that causes the foam.