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Sails on the St. Marys

The Tall Ships Festival • Credit: Algoma 1812
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Sails on the St. Marys

Sails on the St. Marys is part of the second year celebration of a three-year bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812. Sault Ste. Marie will be the only official Northern Ontario port of call for the Tall Ships Challenge® Great Lakes 2013 tour. The Roberta Bondar Marina and Pavilion will host three tall ships July 19th – 21st: US Brig Niagara, SV Lynx, and Pride of Baltimore II.

While most of the war activities took place away from Sault Ste. Marie in 1813, this year we celebrate life on the lakes. With our rich local history in shipbuilding, on deck tours will provide the opportunity for visitors to see life onboard the waters in 1813 and period re-enactors will be onshore showcasing life and times of the era.

Pointe Aux Pins (6 miles west of Sault Ste. Marie) is famous for being the first shipyard on Lake Superior, used by early explorers and settlers from 1730 to 1836. The original shipyard, built six miles west of Sault Ste. Marie, was established by Louis Denis, Monsieur de LaRonde (1675-1741). Lake transportation was needed 'above the rapids' for fur trading, for the North West Company's transporting of goods and for mining activities along the southeast shore of Lake Superior.

The very first wooden ship, a 25 ton vessel with two sails, was constructed there in 1734. In 1771, a primitive blast furnace was built at the same site to help in the construction of the ships. In later years, Alexander Henry and Alexander Baxter continued the shipbuilding so that they could explore, mine the area for copper (near Point Mamainse, Lake Superior) and trap for furs.

Pride II
The St. Marys Rapids, which dropped 21 feet, necessitated a shipbuilding company in the area. Canoes or larger boats had to be emptied and then towed through the rapids by oxen or they had to take their chances and attempt the rapids fully loaded. The Fur Trader, a 25 ton wooden schooner built for the Northwest Fur Company and owned by John Jacob Astor, attempted to run the rapids in 1812. She sustained serious damage and was never to sail again. Many ships were constructed at the Pointe aux Pins site or were constructed elsewhere, disassembled and sent to Pointe aux Pins for re-assembly. Noteworthy ships included the Athabaska, the Otter, the Mink, the Perseverance and the Discovery. The Nancy was refitted at the shipyard in 1813 after experiencing some damage in a battle.

Today, the former shipbuilding site is on private property but a provincial plaque is mounted on the roadside to acknowledge the role of Lake Superior's first shipbuilding facility.

War of 1812 logo final words
A lock was built by the North West Fur Company in 1797. A tow path enabled Montreal canoes to be walked along the small canal instead of being unloaded, portaged and then re-loaded. It was still in use in 1813 but destroyed by American troops in 1814.

The Tall Ships® are representative of the Great Age of Sail and allow us to explore our heritage on the water. Join us for a celebration of life in 1813! For information on Deck Tours and a Regency-themed dinner with the captains please contact us at Algoma 1812, 705-949-1812.

(Sources: Algoma Sailing Club, Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, City of Sault Ste. Marie, various Marine History Websites)

Visit www.saulttourism.com for more information on things to see and do in Sault Ste. Marie!

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