Public transit access, a playground, major building renovations, a new welcome area and on-site dining and accommodations are among investments proposed by Parks Canada at its Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site.
Details of a draft 10-year management plan for the 123-year-old recreational lock were revealed this week at sparsely attended public consultations held in the recently rebuilt stores building.
Attendees were not told about one part of the plan: generating additional cash by charging visitors to enter the site.
"Determine potential new entry fee for site and explore rental/leasing arrangements for heritage buildings by 2023," said the draft plan.
No explanation was given on how current free admission to Whitefish Island National Historic Site, owned by Batchewana First Nation and accessed through the canal site, could be guaranteed if visitors must pay to see the locks.
In 2003, Parks Canada encountered strong local resistance when it proposed slapping parking fees on vehicles entering the Sault historic site, as well as fees for all boats using the recreational locks.
Other revenue-generating ideas floated in the draft document include studying the feasibility of boat mooring and docks by 2021, exploring the possibility of private-sector use of some structures and assessing options for on-site accommodations, also by 2021.
"The rapids served as a major fishery and trading centre dating back thousands of years," the draft plan states.
"Over the centuries, these turbulent waters were navigated by skilled fishermen, intrepid explorers and hardy fur traders, before being harnessed to provide power to turn a small settlement into an industrial city. The construction of an innovative lock system provided passage for commercial vessels and spurred further development."
"The Sault Ste. Marie Canal stands as a testament to Canadian ingenuity and engineering achievements. Once the longest lock in the world, it completed an all-Canadian waterway linking the Atlantic Ocean to the interior of the country and helped facilitate the growth of a nation," the document said.
Officially opened in September 1895, the Sault Ste. Marie Ship Canal operated as a commercial facility for more than 80 years before it was turned over to Parks Canada.
Today, the historic site consists of two islands divided by the recreational lock, covered with manicured lawns, wetlands, poplar trees and mixed shrubs.
It's a popular venue for hiking, cycling, fishing, bird-watching, weddings and other community events.
A recent site assessment determined that many of the structures at the canal are in poor condition.
Parks Canada is proposing to continue renovating the site's historic sandstone buildings while relocating its fuel transfer and storage tanks.
It wants to provide greater emphasis in its programming and interpretive materials on the effect of the canal on First Nations.
The 10-year plan also suggests a redeveloped welcome area and more parking spaces.
On the shorter term, the powerhouse building will be the next to undergo renovations. Design work there is complete and construction may begin as early as this fall.
Past surveys have consistently shown a demand for food service at the canal, said Jeanette Cowen, Parks Canada's visitor experience manager for Sault Ste. Marie and Fort St. Joseph.
"People always seem to want some kind of food on site. We'll have to consider what else is in the area. We don't want to be competing too much with the good things that are nearby. We want to complement."
Another decision will be whether any on-site dining service should be seasonal or year-round, Cowen said.
Comments on the Parks Canada proposals can be sent to pc.ConsultationsCSSM-SSMCConsultations.firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to:
Historic Sites Manager
Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site
1 Canal Drive
Sault Ste. Marie, ON
Community input will continue to be accepted until August.
The 10-year management plan for Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site will be tabled in Parliament in 2019.