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Bagels and Locks (Pt. 1): The Soo Locks and Cup of the Day

A tour boat gets a rise from the locks, sandwiched
around views from the Soo Locks viewing platform
The quaint Sault Sainte Marie (referred by locals as "The Soo") is the oldest city in the state of Michigan, having been a gathering place for native peoples for many years before French missionaries Claude Dablon and Jacques Marquette set up a mission in the area in 1668,

This area proved of prime importance due to its location; the St. Mary's River, the one and only connection between the greatest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior, and neighboring Lake Huron, flows through this area. The rapids of the river, by which the city name received its origin, consisted of a 21 feet drop over hard sandstone in a short ¾-mile-long stretch (the original pathway of the rapids can still be seen on overhead pictures.)

These rapids made larger trade vessel navigation through this area impossible and forced traders to portage their loads past this obstruction (Portage Road, which runs through downtown Soo, marks the original portage path which traders used to transport their goods.)

The foundation for the modern-day Soo Locks, which drew us up to these northern climes on our recent Michigan trip, began in 1797, when a lock was created on the north shore of the river to handle trade canoe traffic. Currently, a parallel set of four locks (three of which are operational) run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and a small lock run by the Canadian government on the northern shore of the river.

The Soo Locks Visitor Center has various informative displays about the development of the locks, including a interactive display of boat traffic and expected arrival times along the lakes. The latter is important, as it is the processing of these vessels through the engineering marvels that provide the main attraction for visitors to the area.

The multi-level viewing platform at the visitor center provides the perfect venue for watching ships both big and small creep into the lock. All manner of spectators were here this day, from old salts long retired from their seafaring days down to the goggle-eyed children, staring in awe as a big lakes freighter demonstrated Archimedes' Principle in real life before their very eyes.

Like the processing of ships through the locks, the general speed of life in Soo seems to be slow and deliberate. This feeling was not too different within Cup of the Day, one of the town's few places to hangout and grab a cup of java, Whatever morning rush may have been there had long gone by the time we stopped by for a quick bite.

Cup of the Day features a pretty typical selection of breakfast and lunch standards at relatively inexpensive prices (there are only a couple items on the menu that break the $7 barrier,) The coffee featured is from a Michigan based roaster (Paramount Coffee out of Lansing) and the bagel sandwich and coffee (the small cup goes for exactly $1) we ordered did a perfectly acceptable job of waking us up and giving us some quick morning nourishment.

Perhaps the most unique thing about Cup of the Day is the novel mixing of businesses and philosophies. This may be my first and only visit to a combination coffee house/beauty salon (the space is shared with the owner's business partner's Judy and Company salon and spa) with a focus on "high quality natural food", an/anti-crap-coffee credo (they include a definition for a "McCRAPpuccino" in their webpage Coffee & Espresso terminology section) and a conservative political bent (not surprising for red-leaning Chippewa County.)

2019 Update: Social media links have been updated for Cup of the Day

Soo Locks Visitor Center and Park
(Visitor Center open Seasonally; Park open year-round)
312 W. Portage Avenue (Google Maps)
Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
(906) 253-9290
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Cup of the Day
406 Ashmun St. (Google Maps)
Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
(906) 635-7272
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