Soo Locks

Soo Locks
St. Mary's Falls Canal
Aerial view of the Soo Locks. View is to the east, with Canada on the left and the United States on the right
Soo Locks is located in Michigan
Location: Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
Coordinates: 46°30′02″N 84°21′40″W / 46.50056°N 84.36111°W / 46.50056; -84.36111Coordinates: 46°30′02″N 84°21′40″W / 46.50056°N 84.36111°W / 46.50056; -84.36111
Built: 1837
Architect: Corps of Engineers
Architectural style: No Style Listed
NRHP Reference#: 66000394[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP: November 13, 1966
Designated NHL: November 13, 1966[3]
Designated MSHS: February 12, 1959[2]
McArthur lock from the inside
The first Soo Locks in the 19th century
A whaleback traverses the Poe Lock, ca. 1910

The Soo Locks (sometimes spelled Sault Locks, but pronounced "soo") are a set of parallel locks which enable ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. They are located on the St. Marys River between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, between the Upper Peninsula of the US state of Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario. They bypass the rapids of the river, where the water falls 21 feet (7 m).

The locks pass an average of 10,000 ships per year,[4] despite being closed during the winter from January through March, when ice shuts down shipping on the Great Lakes. The winter closure period is used to inspect and maintain the locks.

The locks share a name (usually shortened and anglicized as Soo) with the two cities named Sault Ste. Marie, in Ontario and in Michigan, located on either side of the St. Marys River. The Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge between the United States and Canada permits vehicular traffic to pass over the locks. A railroad bridge crosses the St. Marys River just upstream of the highway bridge.


U.S. Soo locks

The U.S. locks form part of a 1.6-mile (2.6-km) canal formally named the St. Mary's Falls Canal. The entire canal, including the locks, is owned and maintained by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which provides free passage. The first iteration of the U.S. Soo Locks was completed in May 1855, and operated by the State of Michigan until transferred to the U.S. Army in 1881.

The current configuration consists of four parallel lock chambers, each running east to west; starting at the Michigan shoreline and moving north toward Ontario, these are:

  • The MacArthur Lock, built in 1943. It is 800 feet (244 m) long, 80 feet (24 m) wide, and 29.5 feet (9 m) deep. This is large enough to handle ocean-going vessels ("salties") that must also pass through the smaller locks in the Welland Canal. The first vessel through was the SS Carl D. Bradley.
  • The Poe Lock, re-built in 1968, after the Saint Lawrence Seaway opened. It is 1,200 feet (366 m) long, 110 feet (34 m) wide, and 32 feet (10 m) deep. It can take ships carrying 72,000 tons of cargo. The Poe is the only lock that can handle the large lake freighters used on the upper lakes. The first passage was by the Phillip R. Clarke in 1969. The original Poe Lock was engineered by Orlando Poe and, at 800 feet long and 100 feet wide (244 x 30 m), was the largest in the world when completed in 1896.[5]
  • The Davis Lock, built in 1914. It is 1,350 feet (411 m) long, 80 feet (24 m) wide, and 23.1 feet (7 m) deep. This lock is used rather infrequently (only 5 commercial/private and 34 government vessel passages, on 14 October days, during 2008[6]) to lock light freighters, tour boats, and small craft when traffic warrants. The SS James A Farrell was the first vessel to lock through.[citation needed]
  • The Sabin Lock, built in 1919. It is 1,350 feet (411 m) long, 80 feet (24 m) wide, and 23.1 feet (7 m) deep. This lock has been placed in caretaker status and is no longer used.

The Davis and Sabin locks have been slated for replacement since 1986 with a new 'Super-Lock', which would provide a second lock capable of accommodating the "lakers". Groundbreaking for the new lock project was held on June 30, 2009, although the bulk of the funding necessary to complete the project has not yet been appropriated.[7] This construction will further limit usage of the Davis Lock.

North of the Sabin Lock is an additional channel with a small hydroelectric plant that provides electricity for the lock complex.

2008 Panorama from the MacArthur Lock, facing north

Engineers Day

On the last Friday of every June, the public is allowed to go behind the security fence and cross the lock gates of the U.S. Soo Locks for the annual Engineers Day Open House.[8][9] Visitors then are able to get close enough to the ships passing through the two regularly operating locks to touch them.

Canadian Soo Lock

Canadian Lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

A single small lock is currently operated on the Canadian side of the Soo. Opened in 1998, it was built within a damaged older lock, and is 77 metres (253 ft) long, 15.4 metres (51 ft) wide and 3 metres (9.8 ft) deep.[10] The Canadian lock is used for recreational and tour boats; major shipping traffic uses the U.S. locks.


33 CFR 207.440 33 CFR 207.441

  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  2. ^ State of Michigan (2009). "Saint Mary's Falls Canal". Retrieved June 26, 2010. 
  3. ^ "St. Marys Falls Canal". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-27. 
  4. ^ "USACE - Detroit District - Facts". Retrieved 2008-10-22. 
  5. ^ , 
  6. ^ U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Traffic Statement: 2008 Navigation Season, p. 3,, retrieved 2009-08-30 
  7. ^ "Construction beginning on new Soo shipping lock". Detroit Free Press (Gannett Company). 2009-06-30. Retrieved 2009-07-13. [dead link]
  8. ^ "USACE - Detroit District - Soo Locks - Sault Ste- Marie". U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Retrieved 2011-03-05. 
  9. ^ "Soo Locks Engineer's Day". 2010-06-24.,-2011-soo-locks-engineers-day-72/. Retrieved 2011-03-05. 
  10. ^ Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site of Canada, Natural Wonders & Cultural Treasures, Parks Canada.

Further reading

External links

Aerial views

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