Prior to the completion of the International Bridge in 1962, travelers transiting the St. Mary’s River between the cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan did so either by private boat or by purchasing passage on the ferry services which were in existence during this period. These services, which served the area from the mid 1800’s through 1962, began prior to the advent of the automobile, when most passengers were pedestrians (although fare rates were established for horses with riders).
While private individuals likely ferried paying passengers across the river in the early days, according to notes in the Bayliss Papers housed at the Bayliss Library in Sault, Michigan, the first formal ferry service on the river was the M.I. Mills, skippered by Captain Sam Bernier. The Bayliss Papers indicate the Mills was in service in 18651.
In typical Clergue fashion, the need to empire build became manifest when the street railway was nearing completion. The most obvious direction to turn was toward a ferry service between the two Saults. It did not faze Clergue that there was already a ferry service in operation. He attempted to purchase this existing company and when his attempt was rebuffed, he purchased his own ferry and operated it in competition with the American owned company. Clergue ultimately succeeded in forcing his competition out of business by setting his fare at five cents, half that of his competitor. The American Company sold its operation to the Transit Company in May, 1903.2
The International Transit Company operated ferries such as the Fortune in the early years, and closed out the ferry era with the operation of three ferries; the Agoming, the James W. Curran, and the John A. McPhail. The ferries operated year round on a route just east of the east U.S. lock approach, often pounding through heavy ice, and waits in line could be measured in hours at times. As traffic increased in the two cities, the need for a bridge became increasingly apparent.
With the opening of the International bridge, the viability of the ferry service evaporated, and in fact, the trust agreement for the sale of bonds with which the bridge was built stipulated that no other river crossings be operated within ten miles of the bridge. The Ontario government subsequently purchased the International Transit Company and its assets in 1960 at a cost of $1,650,000. The ferries were operated between 1960 and the date of the bridge opening by the Ontario Department of Highways, and sold thereafter.3
1 Joseph Bayliss Papers, Courtesy of Bayliss Public Library, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
2 City of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Website, http://www.city.sault-ste-marie.on.ca/library/Ind_ITC.html
3 The Sault Daily Star, May 28, 1963