Museum Ship Valley Camp – 10 Things We Loved About Our Visit
As Michigan’s oldest city, Sault Ste. Marie is full of historic attractions. One of its most visible landmarks is the Museum Ship Valley Camp, a former Great Lakes freighter that has been open for the public to view for many years. In all of our visits to Sault Ste. Marie we had somehow never done the Valley Camp tour, and on an early summer trip we made sure we didn’t miss out on it again.
The Valley Camp is 550 feet long and was in service from 1917-1966. It hauled iron ore and coal to steel mills in Buffalo, Cleveland, and other locations on the Great Lakes while working for National Steel Corporation, Wilson Marine Transit Company, and Republic Steel Corporation. It was brought to Sault Ste. Marie in 1968 and permanently resides next to the Kemp Marina on historic Water St. The ship is well-maintained and offers a great variety of maritime exhibits. We had a great time during our visit and thought we would share the 10 things that really stuck out for us. Here are our 10 favorite things from the Museum Ship Valley Camp tour:
Captain John P. Wellington Great Lakes Marine Hall of Fame – this room has plaques honoring explorers, shipbuilders, fleet operators, sailors and others who made significant impact on Great Lakes sailing and shipping. Freighter fans will recognize quite a few of these names as they also have had ships named after them. John J. Boland, John D. Leitch, and James R. Barker were a few names that jumped out for me and it was great to learn about the careers of these men and put a face with the freighters I’ve seen on the Great Lakes.Model boats – There are a handful of models of freighters and other boats spread throughout the museum. The detail on these pieces, like the Carl D. Bradley shown above, is amazing.
Model boats – There are a handful of models of freighters and other boats spread throughout the museum. The detail on these pieces, like the Carl D. Bradley shown above, is amazing.
Art – Most of the freighter exhibits have paintings included, there is a small art gallery in the cargo hold, and smaller drawings (including the art of Tony Strublic) are mixed in as you walk through the museum. There was a great balance of paintings and historic photographs throughout the museum.
Shipping History – Learn about how shipping evolved over the years as you walk through the exhibit space. From wooden schooners to the mighty ore carriers we know today, things have come a long way!
Crew Quarters and accommodations – Seeing the small and basic rooms that crew members lived in really drives home the point of what it would be like to serve on one of these ships. Remembering that this crew of 20+ would also have been living and working on the boat without any of the modern conveniences we are used to was a sobering thought as well.
Lighthouse exhibits – We love lighthouses and it was great to see them represented in the museum since they are an important part of shipping history. There’s a heavy focus on nearby beacons at Whitefish Point and Point Iroquois, but other Michigan lighthouses are featured here as well.
Cargo hold – It is hard to really understand how big a freighter cargo hold is until you’re inside of one! We loved seeing just how massive this space was and thinking about what it would have looked like during the Valley Camp’s days of hauling coal or ore.
Aquariums – The Valley Camp is home to four 1,200 gallon aquariums stocked with fish native to the Great Lakes. Watch the fish swim past and try and count how many there are!
Edmund Fitzgerald exhibit – No ship has fascinated people like the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, and at the Valley Camp you have the rare opportunity to see some of the artifacts that survive from its tragic wreck. Two of the lifeboats from the famed freighter are on display here as part of one of the museum’s flagship exhibits.
View from the deck – This was the best part of the tour for me and something I had looked forward to for a long time. The views from the deck of the freighter were amazing, and walking from end to end gives an idea of just how long 550 feet is! From here you can see across the river to Canada, and get great views of the Tower of History and other Sault Ste. Marie landmarks. The only thing that could have made this even better is if a freighter happened to be heading to or from the Soo Locks while we were here (a reason to go back)! We’ve added a few more photos from our visit below:
The Museum Ship Valley Camp is open from May to October each year. Hours vary, but the boat is open seven days a week during the summer. Ask about combo passes for the Valley Camp and other Sault Historic Sites like the River of History Museum or the Tower of History to save some money! We bundled the Valley Camp and the Tower of History and had a blast at both sites!