Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada


Learn why Bellevue Park has Defined our Community

By Mark D. Dunn

A park is neutral ground, an oasis the demands of urban life cannot infiltrate, a place where anxiety drops away. On any summer day the Sault’s Bellevue Park is a picnic site for families and office workers, a track for joggers, a playground for children, and a quiet space for the contemplative. This 17 hectare (42 acre) rolling expanse of paths, ponds, and shaded benches overlooking St. Marys River is a defining feature of the city’s waterfront.

I discovered Bellevue Park on a class trip in the fourth grade. Bellevue was immeasurable then. Every corner held a new mystery and the promise of inexhaustible adventure. Although the park has changed over the years, it still holds a magical persuasion over me. Going there now, I am transformed into that child making those first discoveries.

In a field near the playground, a 1943 Porter Train engine has welcomed visitors for four decades. In the old days, the engine was an extension of the playground, another apparatus to climb. Once onboard, children and aspiring conductors of all ages guided the engine down imaginary tracks. The engine’s place in the community was confirmed recently when a group of supporters challenged a plan that would have it removed from the park. The passionate campaign to save the train worked. The little engine will be allowed to live out its retirement behind the safety of a chain-linked fence. The hillside to the south-east forms a natural bowl for a bandshell that has hosted concerts and Canada Day celebrations for generations. The site of weekly summer concerts, the Bellevue Park stage is a rite of passage for every Sault band. Audiences sprawl along the surrounding hills to listen and mingle in the evenings. To the side of the stage, a snack stand serves up ice cream cones and hot dogs. The picnic area nearby is full, even when the bandshell is quiet.


It is a short walk through magnificent pines to the river. No matter where one is in the park, the river is not far away. Much of Bellevue Park’s 2.4 kilometres of paved pathways skirt the water and overlook Lake Huron’s North Channel.

For a closer look at the waterway, a slightly less groomed path leads through a constructed peninsula called Topsail Island. The island can be downright mystical when the morning fog lifts from the river to obscure the distant shore and swallow the fields. A mixture of swelling grassland, shade trees and a rocky shoreline, Topsail has been a favourite place for kite flying and picnicking in the summer and for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing through the winter.

West of Topsail, up river, Bellevue Marina is a reminder that Sault Ste. Marie is a port town. The marina’s 174 slips are filled with sailors from around the Great Lakes and from within town. Self-proclaimed “Boat Nerds” are fixtures here as well. These binocular-toting park-dwellers study freighters passing through the Michigan canal. They are an exceptional resource, as each member of the informal club is an expert in Great Lakes shipping. Not only can a boat nerd identify a ship’s home port, they can usually predict its destination, its tonnage, and can tell without much trouble the number of years it has served in the lakes.

Bellevue Park is an unofficial sanctuary for birds, making it a great location for “bird nerds” as well. The ubiquitous herring and ring-billed gulls taunt picnickers for a snack, swooping in at the rustling of a lunch bag. The ponds and wetlands are a haven for mallards, mergansers and wood ducks, who waddle close for a free meal.

As a child with a subtle taste for the macabre, I was fascinated by Bellevue Park’s only permanent human resident. On a slight hill near the pond a wrought iron fence defines the grave of Colonial John Prince, the area’s first district judge. It was Prince who gave Bellevue its name. By all accounts, he was a cantankerous man. Sent north from Essex County after ordering an execution without trial of five prisoners during the 1838 rebellion, Prince felt he’d been sent into exile. His diary and letters reveal a man both tortured by perceived humiliation and confident that history would clear his name. Upon Prince’s death in 1870, the land was opened for public use.

The one area of Bellevue Park that I did not fully appreciate until adulthood is the greenhouse near the Lake Street entrance. Open year round, the greenhouse and nursery produce much of the flowers that are planted around the city. The greenhouse is also home to some exotic plants, including a banana tree. Fountains and benches make the greenhouse a perfect place for meditation.

The park continues to grow and adapt to the needs of its patrons. New paths, updated facilities, and constant grooming from its staff make the park one of the most important community spaces in Sault Ste. Marie. From the first visit, and every visit there after, Bellevue Park has never disappointed.


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