From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
The world’s political climate in 1939 leading up to the beginning of World War Two on September 1, 1939 was tense. It is no surprise then that an incident that occurred in Sault Ste. Marie in April of 1939, created fear of sabotage when police found dynamite near the canal.
Detective Sergeant Fred Rowe with the Sault Ste. Marie Police discovered the dynamite by accident, while investigating a theft from the Great Lakes Power Company. When he entered a scrap iron shed a mere 500 feet from the canal, he encountered something alarming: a case containing 136 sticks of dynamite, or approximately 50 pounds.
Local authorities immediately feared the worst, alerting the provincial police, the RCMP, and the Michigan Soo police force that there had been a possible sabotage attempt.
The dynamite was located near the power plant, the drinking water intake, the canal, and the railway bridge between the two Saults. Police estimated that just a few charges each could have severely damaged these locations – a disastrous prospect, particularly with WWII looming and the need for strong industry and a functioning canal system to support wartime activities.
An official with the Great Lakes Power Company went so far as to say that an explosion in the area could “render every man in Sault Ste. Marie worthless.”
Mayor Jack McMeeken urged all residents “to regard themselves as policemen and to immediately report suspicious movements to the authorities,” according to a Sault Star article from the time.
Across the province, watchmen were posted at prominent power plants, from Niagara to Ottawa. The Legion even offered to create a patrol of veterans at the Soo canal, to protect the area until another solution could be found to ensure its safety.
However, shortly after the news broke, a local driver with Algoma Taxi came forward, saying he knew who had left the explosives at the canal. During the previous autumn, he had encountered a prospector from North Bay who had been up the A.C.R. line near Mile 123. He left a bag at the taxi stand that the taxi driver assumed contained a case of beer. “I… thought he meant he would drink it when he said he would take care of it,” the taxi driver told the Sault Star.
However, when the prospector returned to the taxi stand on the following day, he revealed that the bag contained dynamite.
The driver refused to continue to let him store it at the taxi stand. Instead, he drove him around town to the various dynamite dealers – including Cochrane Hardware, District Services, and Lyons Hardware. The dealers refused to store the dynamite over the winter, and attempts to sell the dynamite at a discount also did not pan out.
Finally, the prospector asked the taxi driver to bring him to the canal. He left the cab, and then returned a short while later without his dynamite, saying that he had found a safe place to store it. He planned to retrieve it in the spring when he was back in the area, on his way to work on his claim.
The taxi driver provided the police with his name, the hotel in town where he had been staying, and everything he remembered about the event. He said he was certain that the prospector did not have any malicious intent.
While nothing came of this incident involving the dynamite and fears of sabotage, the reaction revealed just how vital the canal is for Sault Ste. Marie and, indeed, for Canada.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.