Of Greyhounds & Bulls

Iroquois Point & Sault Ste Marie, Michigan/Ontario (Map)

Winter 2011/12.


Nine a.m. came all too soon. My friend Yrvelouria & his brother were in town, and along with Nail, the four of us stayed out until 2 or 3 in the morning. It was only after I suggested going back to the warmth of the hotel, that we descended our 10 stories & moved to Yrvelouria's hotel room. Nail wanted to stay up & drink 40s by the newly acquired skyline view, but sadly I needed sleep.

I hurried out of the Hilton Garden Inn come morning, trying not to wake the Yrvys as they were gracious enough to offer me their floor space. Once outside, I threw some money in Yrvelouria's parking meter in hopes that he'd avoid a parking ticket by leaving within the next 2 hours. I was surprised with myself that I thought of doing that, as my mind was working at very low capacity.

Moving along, I plodded through the snow squalls during my short jaunt to the Maritime Sailor's Cathedral. Rye emerged almost instantaneously from the tunnel & scooped me up.

Just like last year, I was greeted with snacks & music in the back seat. An addition this year was the blankets, in case we broke down in Northern Michigan I suppose.

If you're wondering why we were going to Sault Ste. Marie, our annual road trip was dependent on which day Rye could get away. We had a list of desirable sporting events highlighted for every single day, and once we figured out we were going on the 29th, it was an easy decision to go to the Sault, as the other options were pretty sad (it was Kitchener, Sault Ste. Marie or Peterborough, I believe).

One of the days would have had us driving 9 hours each way to Nashville, but Rye wasn't available that day...so Sault Ste. Marie it was.

I felt horrible for poor Rye on the way up north as I was very tired, and when I'm tired, I'm quite cranky. I was trying to do my best, but it was like a young puppy around an old hound - I was having trouble with my patience.

I felt a bit better after some delicious pizza in Gaylord, but decided that I better use that Cleveland Indians blanket to nap as we went over the Mackinaw Bridge to the Upper Peninsula (of Michigan).

I couldn't sleep for very long though, because I was too excited to be in northern Michigan!

Today was the day where we had extra time, so Rye asked me if there was anything I wanted to see along the way. It being the end of December, I thought a lighthouse on the shores of Lake Superior would be a great idea!

We exited the interstate about 7 miles before the Sault, which was comical because we had been observing the Sault distance number fall for the last 4 hours. The M-28 we exited upon was empty & stark. I've only driven on a couple of Upper Peninsula highways previously, so I was really enjoying this unchartered, foreign land.

We stopped at a BP along the way & realized how cold it was. Poor Rye had to pump the gas & I thought about how he should have packed some long johns instead of so many snacks!

Iroquois Point was another 20 minutes from the gas station, mostly along a lakeside road through a reservation, with sights of trees, casinos & pond hockey.

Not surprisingly, we were the only people at the lighthouse on this chilly day. I was actually imagining the conditions to be far worse, with a whipping wind blowing icy currents off the inland sea that is Lake Superior; but in reality it wasn't that bad.

As for history, this is the second Point Iroquois Light, constructed in 1870. Once they built the locks in Sault Ste. Marie - allowing larger ships to move from Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes - a lighthouse was needed to guide vessels from Whitefish Bay towards the Sault.

If Whitefish Bay sounds familiar, it's because the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald sits in her ice water mansion directly to the north of Point Iroquois (they were going to navigate into the safety of Whitefish Bay, but were told a different lighthouse/foghorn weren't operational at the time).

Leaving the lighthouse, I pointed Rye onto 6 Mile Road eastbound. This meant we entered the American Sault by a different method than the interstate, which was fine with me. Having researched a place to sleep in the Canadian Sault, I was surprised to see how many motels they had. The American Sault was no different. I reasoned the Canadian one needed all of the motels because of the Trans-Canada Highway, but I didn't know why the American Sault needed so many. Regardless, the motels were all of the 1940s and 1950s vintage, making for more interesting scenery than the Ace Pro Hardwares & Wal-Marts we were also seeing.

I've been to Sault Ste Marie previously, but it was about 15 years ago while bike riding with Bart. I wondered what I would recognize, but downtown didn't ring any bells.

We drove through downtown for the other thing I wanted to see - besides the actual downtown - the Chippewa County Courthouse.

This building was built in 1877 and Wikipedia says that it's one of the oldest continually in-use courthouses in the state. I'm not about to look through the other 82 courthouses in Michigan to fact check that, so take it with a grain of salt. The Chippewa County Courthouse is built in the Second Empire architectural style, with the red sandstone coming from Marquette & the yellowish limestone coming from Drummond Island. The architect was William Scott, who's son John Scott designed the equally impressive Wayne County Courthouse in Detroit.

Rye couldn't appreciate the courthouse because he was so flabbergasted with the suckling statue on the front lawn...

Apparently the Chippewa Legend of Sault Ste Marie involves two children trying to get away from their murderous mother. The two boys were retrieved by a crane and brought to the other side of the Sault (from one city to the other). The crane returned for their evil mother, but the crane purposefully dropped her onto the falls which used to exist between the two cities (her skull would crack on the rocks & her brains became the whitefish which are still found in these waters).

This tale is very similar to the creation of Rome, where two boys were trying to get away from their murderous mother & they found a she wolf, a she wolf which nursed the boys back to health.

The statues were presented to the City of Sault Ste. Marie by the wife of Michigan's only Upper Peninsula governor (Stella B. Osborn), because they both represented the creation of rich, ancient cities in a similar fashion.

Leaving the American side of the Sault, I started to recognize a few things as we passed Lake Superior State (I filmed something there for Mortar but it was left on the cutting-room floor).

The funny thing was that I remembered LSSU, but the International Bridge over the Soo Locks? It seemed completely foreign. I had no recollection of the bridge at all. I actually had a different memory where I could have sworn remembering the Sault & overlooking a casino or park with nice landscaping.

We crossed the International Bridge with industry on the left & workers' housing on the right.

I really remembered that one wrong...

Sault Ste Marie is the furthest north I've ever been in Ontario, since I've never did that famous Northern Ontario drive that everyone else seems to have done. Even in regards to this city, my parents simply hopped on the highway & left town - so everything over here was exciting & new to me.

It was a decent winter's day as well, thankfully blizzard-free as we had been hoping. Therefore, the two of us drove around downtown for a bit, checking out the streetscape & noticing a few handsome buildings like churches and their courthouse.

I wasn't overwhelmed with love, but for an Ontario city, I liked the Sault enough.

We had dinner at some place which was good because it was dark & subterranean, but sadly only had heavily deep-fried food. After a few pints there, it was already time to get over to the hockey game!

Unfortunately we were going to the new Essar Centre and not the old Sault Memorial Gardens. The Sault used to have an amazing, old, 1949 arena, but they stopped using it in 2006 - so we were a few years too late. They built the old arena in honour of WWII veterans, so they decided to keep the arena's distinctive tower & it still lights up blood red on Greyhounds gamedays.

Approaching the ticket booths, we were shocked to learn there were only standing-room tickets available! For a Thursday night game against Belleville in December?!? The woman assured us to get the standing-room tickets & wait a few minutes into the game - which we did, then observed all of the standing-room people move down the staircases to empty seats.

Apparently the way the Essar Centre works is that many Sault institutions (the hospital, various companies) have far too many season tickets for the hockey games. So what happens is they regularly sell out, but many of the seats remain empty, since the hospital doesn't have 50 employees who want tickets for a Thursday night game against Belleville in December.

Rye & I both wondered why the team was called the Greyhounds. Apparently since the 1910s, the name has been present because of the idea that Greyhounds are faster than the rival (Sudbury) Wolves.

The Greyhounds joined the Ontario Hockey League in 1971, and they have had some big names play for them since that time. Joe Thornton, John Vanbiesbrouck, Rick Tocchet, Paul Coffey, Bob Probert, Ron Francis, Wayne Simmonds, Ray Emery & of course, Wayne Gretzky, all have played wearing a Greyhounds sweater (Gretzky got his 99 number as a Greyhound, since his preferred #9 was already taken & the coach suggested that two 9's were better than one.)

As much as I wanted to hate an arena built in 2006, I simply couldn't. It wasn't sterile like Kingston, and seemed to have an older feel than something built in the 21st century. The concourses were wide, but the seating area was more intimate than its 4500-person capacity would forecast. The city also saved some stained glass windows & wood carvings (see above) from the old arena, adding to the arena's je ne sais quoi. Judging by the number of amazing things I've seen left to abandonment/demolition, I have to give the Sault some dap on that one.

We didn't see that many girls, but there were a few here & there. The arena ended up saving those people points though, as we strangely ended up seeing a guy in a Baltimore Orioles shirt & another in a KC Chiefs jacket! (My favourite baseball & football teams respectively). Rye let me know there was no chance in hell of seeing a Minnesota Timberwolves jacket in the Sault though.

Anyway, as for the game it was a shootout, as both of the backup goaltenders were playing. It was a shame because I was excited to see Belleville's goalie Malcolm Subban, which is even funnier seeing as he now ended up on the Bruins!

(I didn't have my customary poutine since I was so stuffed from dinner. Plus, that's a Quebec Junior Hockey tradition.)

After the game, we found the cold I was expecting as we walked 10 minutes to some bar. The bar ended up looking pretty empty/not our style, so another 10 minutes was spent walking in the cold temps, back to the place where we had dinner.

It was alright for a bit, but we couldn't help but check out the other bar which was supposed to be good. Even though it was a Thursday, with gentle flurries & nowhere near closing time, a cab would have taken 45 minutes! So we ended up walking for 20 or 25 blocks through the cold streets of the Sault. It was all to get to a bar, where I had that feeling of being too old for the first time in my life.

I drowned my sorrow in a pint of Labatt 50.

Of course all of the cabs were sitting outside this new bar, but they were filling up quicker than they could arrive. We didn't even bother. We were really faded and needed to walk it off anyway. Using the grid system, we walked a different route back home, along a quiet street lined with houses of varying quality.

Rye caught the Pita Pit just before close & it was back to The Diplomat Motel minutes later.

The next morning, Rye had to get back home, so it was a quick 5 hours back south.

I believe our only stop was for Taco Bell in Flint (and gas across the street).

I sure hope we can do this for another night come December 2012...


Go Back to the Main Page of this Website

1 - Sault Ste Marie.com - Point Iroquois Lighthouse

2 - Buildings of Michigan - Kathryn Bishop Eckert

3 - Michigan's County Courthouses - John Fedynsky

4 - SooGreyhounds.com - Alumni

5 - Sault Ste Marie.com - The Crane of the Sault

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