Building a Place in the Soo for Children to Create, Learn, and Play
Since 2016, the Soo Locks Children’s Museum, a registered 501(c)(3) organization, has been working with community partners to create a museum to serve nearly 4,000 children in a rural three-county region in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. The area features tremendous natural resources but has a nearly 30% child poverty rate and few organized and affordable recreational opportunities designed for children. The nearest children’s museum is 150 miles away.
In 2021, the museum’s all-volunteer Board found a space to house the new children’s museum in the heart of historic downtown Sault Ste. Marie. The buildings formerly were used as retail storefronts and are located only one block from the internationally known Soo Locks, which connect Lake Superior and Lake Huron and attract over 500,000 tourists annually. The museum hired museum developer Bluewater Studio and Studio Intrigue Architects to develop construction plans and detailed exhibit designs. During the planning process, the museum Board held community charrettes to gather input about potential museum exhibits and content.
Ten interactive exhibits were chosen from among the design possibilities by the museum Board, the Cultural Advisor from the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and the Historic Preservation Officer from the Bay Mills Indian Community. Planned exhibits include a science- and engineering-themed water table where children can build their own boat and float it through a model of the Soo Locks; an interactive water table with a fish-matching station; a Northern Lights display; a sensory-calming space with soothing lights and sounds; a maker space, where children can explore science, technology, engineering, arts, and math; a Main Street play area that includes a bank, a hospital, a grocery store, and a construction exhibit; a multi-level climbing structure, and plenty of other play space. All exhibits will highlight the history of the Eastern UP and convey the historical and current importance of the Anishinaabe people to the region.
The museum’s nature-themed exhibit will feature floor-to-ceiling interactive trees that will inform children and their families about the importance of preserving and repairing the ecosystem and the essential role that trees play in the relationship between humans and the natural world. The exhibit will focus on the cultural significance of the seasons to the Anishinaabe people and will integrate their legends and origin stories. Both the trees’ displays and the trees themselves will change as the seasons change. The museum and its partners hope the exhibit will spark an interest in future careers in conservation, fisheries sciences, earth science, and parks and recreation management.
Americana awarded a grant to the museum in May 2023 to support the interactive tree exhibit and look forward to its completion toward the end of 2023. We especially appreciate the museum’s deep partnership with tribal communities in designing the exhibit, the integration of Anishinaabe legends and origin stories into the exhibit, and the use of Anishinaabemowin names for the seasons to honor the interconnectedness of all living things. You can find more information about the Soo Locks Childrens Museum, including information about how you can help to bring the museum’s planned exhibits to life, on the museum website.