The History of the Ferry

Black and white photograph of the Algoming ferry being loaded with carsPrior 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).

Photograph of the Ferry Dock in 1907While 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.

Black and white photo of the The International Transit Company's Ferry from 1905At the start of the 20th century, Francis Clergue of Sault, Ontario started a ferry service on the Canadian side of the river.  The ferry company was called The International Transit Company.

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

Black and white photograph of the Fortune ferry from 1910The 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.

Black and White Photograph of the Algoming Ferry Colour Photograph of the James W. Curran Ferry Colour Photograph of the John A. McPhail Ferry

Colour photograph of the James W. Curran ferry loaded with carsWith 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

Addendum:

 

Sault Michigan Ferry Dock (pre-1962)

4 thoughts on “The History of the Ferry

  1. In 1960 we moved to SSM, ON where my father (Jack Barber) worked for the Ontario Department of Highways, auditting the books for the construction of the new International Bridge. We had many fond memories of this era. The ferry staff that were right at my dad’s office, were all so great, and the final staff picnic on St Joes Island, meant one final ride on the ferry. Over these last 58 years I have managed to keep a few old tokens for the ferry, and the final days card that they handed out in commemoration of the many years of cross border service. Thanks to all of you here for helping me remember part of my youth, that I consider worth keeping.

  2. Thanks for all the history of the bridge and ferry transits. I have fond memories of taking the ferry as a child to our place on Batchawana Bay. Since Sault Canada reconstructed the clock gateway, I know where the dock for the transit ferry was in Canada. Where was the dock in Sault Michigan? I know it was off Portage Ave. Thanks

    • The Sault dock was indeed on Portage Avenue, and just east of the east U.S. Soo lock approach. It was in an area where the coast guard base is now, and just east of Brady Park.

    • How are your memories of the 8+ hour waits during the summer months in particular, awaiting your turn to cross. My dad worked at the ferry docks in Soo Canada and we often sat and watched the many miles of cars sitting waiting.

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