The Great Tugboat Race

Are you making your list of Pure Michigan vacation ideas for next year?

Here’s an event worth putting on that list….The Great Tugboat Race! “Did he say tugboat race?” Yes!!! And there is a tugboat parade, too!

The tugboat parade is the Friday evening before the 4th of July on the St. Mary’s River in Sault Ste. Marie. At Alford Park, next to the powerhouse on Portage Street, you will have a spot at the water’s edge to watch the tugs parade past the crowd, showing off their decorations. This year’s decorations included cowboys, cacti, the Jolly Roger, sombreros and a very large crown.

All the Tugs in the Soo Locks

After a few passes in front of the crowd, the tug parade will head to the Soo Locks. There they will be raised up about 21 feet to the level of Lake Superior. I skipped out of the parade a little early because I wanted to reconnoiter a good spot to view the action as all the tugs filed into the lock. The observation platform is the perfect spot for looking right down into the lock as the tugs motor in. Usually, only one very large freighter fits in the lock. The whole tug parade fit in one lock! There were about 30 tugs in the parade this year…all in the lock at the same time.

A Drummond Island ferry was there, too! While not really a tug and more of a “party barge,” it sported a live band and quite a crowd dancing on the deck.

Heading for the Bridge

After “locking up,” the tugs head out under the International Bridge in the direction of Whitefish Bay to continue the parade on the Lake Superior side of the Soo Locks.

Saturday…Race Day. That spot on the rail at Alford Park will again provide you a front row view of the races. The starting line is to your right and the finish line is to your left towards the Locks. The smaller tugs race first, with the tugs in the following heats increasing in size and engine horse-power. While all this fun is going on, an ore freighter may try to sneak past on its way to deliver its cargo somewhere in the lower lakes.

The racing starts at noon so there is plenty of time beforehand to visit the Pancake Barge and have breakfast. The Pancake Barge serves breakfast in the Canadian Soo for 2 days then moves to Soo, Michigan for 2 days.

So why do the tugs race? For the challenged children of the two Soos. For the past 28 years, the Great Tugboat Race has been held to raise contributions for the challenged children of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Their website has much more information about their cause. I recommend picking up one of their books, available for a donation. This 165-page book contains photos and descriptions of almost 50 tugs and a short history for each one. It was very interesting to read the history of each of the tugs as they motored by.

Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan celebrates Independence Day in grand style with a parade through downtown and fireworks over the St. Mary’s River. With the Great Tugboat Race and Parade, and the 4th of July celebration, I’ve put a visit back to the Soo on my list of Pure Michigan vacations again for next year.

Duane Davis was born a Yooper, but was raised in the Cereal City. He travels to the UP as much as possible for special events and outdoor activities. He is a first-time blogger and dedicates his first blog to Tasha…one of the children of the two Soos.

  • Ron

    I go to the UP camping every year over at Manistique and never really heard about this.Now that I know,I will have to make it there next year.It sounds like a great thing.