Sault Ste Marie, you have surprised me, in a good way. I have travelled 700 km North of Toronto to experience the Agawa Canyon Train and see what inspired Lawren Harris and the other Group of Seven painters. I discovered a landscape that is one postcard view after another along with a town rich in history. Its history and art have inspired me to plan an afternoon exploring The Soo discovering some of the other stories that make this town a place worthy of a visit. Two places immediately come to mind and they are the Art Gallery of Algoma and the Ermatinger Clergue National Heritage Site. Art and History combined to make for a fun afternoon in Sault Ste Marie.
Ermatinger Clergue National Heritage Site is located a short walk from my hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, on Bay Street. It is two exhibits in one stop. You enter through the Heritage Discovery Centre where there is info, artefacts, gift shop and a small theatre for historical performances that occur throughout the season. Check the schedule for the Moments of Algoma Dinner Theatre events.
Once through the centre, we enter the grounds where both houses have been relocated and brought back to life. First up is the Clergue Blockhouse. Once home to Francis Hector Clergue, a “man of idea’s” the Blockhouse first floor was where fur trading and business took place when it was first built in 1821.
When Clergue purchased it in 1894 he renovated the first floor to be his office and added the second cantilevered floor to be his residence. You can walk through it and see much of what it would have looked like during his life. You will also read that Francis Clergue was responsible for many of the industries that built Sault Ste Marie into the Northern powerhouse that it became. Industries such as Algoma Steel, St. Mary’s Paper Mill (closed in 2011), a hydro electric dam and canal-lock system and a portion of the Algoma Central Railway.
A man of idea’s and nice taste if I do say so myself.
The Ermatinger Old Stone House dates back to 1808 when it was the home of Charles Oakes Ermatinger. Born in Montreal and involved in the Fur Trading business this 35′ by 45′ house must have made quite the impression 200 years ago.
Curator Kathryn Fisher welcomes us inside where the house has been restored to represent life during the periods of 1808 to 1870. The family was obviously very well off as evidenced by the piano and fine china and silver in the dining room.
If you have signed up for one of the Heritage Dinners you will then be taken to the back of the house where a 3-course meal will be served. Along with readings of the time the meal honours what would have been available and served during the Ermatinger period. Our first course of home made bread and caramelized onions was followed by a Chicken and Dumpling Stew and fresh made Fruit Tarts. Simple but bloody delicious! All served on era appropriate china.
The Art Gallery of Algoma – Located on the waterfront and another short walk from my hotel this Sault Ste Marie gallery houses an impressive collection of art from the Group of Seven to contemporary artists of today.
The Permanent Collection of the AGA is quite impressive and already is larger than the building can accommodate. Currently on is an exhibit celebrating the 150th Confederation of Canada with pieces from the collection spanning the past 150 years. They include this painting titled Sault Ste Marie by Edgar A. Dickinson painted in 1887.
There is also an Emily Carr for those of us that know her well from the West Coast.
I am not much of an art critic but I loved wandering the rooms exploring and absorbing the talent on display of so many Canadians not least being the talented Indigenous artists that have works shown including sculpture and paintings.
For more information on the Group of Seven, there is no better place than the Art Gallery of Algoma to learn and see for yourself where Canadian identity in art first took root.
A perfect day of learning and adventuring, both within walking distance of downtown Sault Ste Marie. There is more to the Soo than the Agawa Canyon Train. Make sure you book extra time to see it all.