A bad commute day for Sherri Smith is when it takes her seven minutes to get to Sault College, where she works as the Chair Natural Environment and Outdoor Studies, Business and Media, versus the normal five. The 2004 age group world champion triathlete might not compete in the sport any longer, but her active lifestyle still includes lots of running, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, all of which are other done right from her door or just a few minutes away from her home. As a triathlete, Smith could get to a community pool in minutes, training with a masters swim group to dial in her swimming to world-champion level.
Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Smith’s family moved from the Northern Ontario city that sits in between Lake Superior and Lake Huron when she was five years old. Growing up in Oshawa, she eventually landed a scholarship at Baylor University and became a national track and field champion before turning her sights to triathlon. While at school in the US her parents moved back to Sault Ste. Marie and it was on a visit home the summer of 2002 that Smith realized what the city had to offer.
“I couldn’t believe the community,” she remembers. “The geography is breathtaking. I didn’t realize we had this in Ontario. The quick access to uncongested activity – running on trails, biking on quiet roads – was a huge draw.”
Many of Smith’s friends from Oshawa were telling her about their hour-long commutes and she was looking at a community with access to a pool, a track and world-class running trails. A community where she could have lots of space and room. One that offered unparalleled nature that isn’t overused, where she could “hear herself.”
Yeah, can’t imagine why she stayed.
Travis Anderson, the director of Tourism and Community Development, is both another example of a returnee and an advocate for the city. After growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Anderson ended up in Vancouver for 12 years. When he ended up back in the city, he was amazed at how much things had changed. “There was more energy,” he says. “It feels more like the west coast than Ontario.”
Like Smith, Anderson immediately felt the advantages of having more time.
“You have way more time,” he says. “You’re not always feeling rushed. It’s easy to get the kids into sports, and you have more time to pursue your interests.”
For many those interests include lots of outdoor activities. Those same running trails Smith enjoyed as an elite runner and triathlete, including the world-renowned Hiawatha Highlands, are some of the world’s most spectacular cross-country skiing and mountain bike trails. The community boasts one of the highest vertical ski hills in Ontario, Searchmont Resort. Then there’s Stokely Creek Lodge, one of the largest Nordic ski areas in North America, which offers 130 km of groomed trails.
Anderson’s department is pushing hard to get the word out about the city and convince more people like Smith that Sault Ste. Marie might just be the place they want to live. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown many of us that we don’t necessarily need to live in a large city to be able to do our jobs, and active families will find a lot to love. The city has set up a website, www.welcomtossm.com, designed to provide information for those thinking about moving there that even includes a list of high-skilled job postings in the area.
As a way to highlight the quality of outdoor life in Sault Ste. Marie, the city is offering an Adventure Pass to new residents. The pass will give new residents $500 which can be used towards passes to the various resorts or gift certificates to outdoor retailers.
In addition to the active lifestyle draw to the area, Sault Ste. Marie is large enough to enjoy a diverse cultural scene and an abundance of different restaurants. In non-COVID times there’s easy access to Sault Ste. Marie Michigan, too, and easy access to 55-minute flights to Toronto for business and pleasure.
The flights go the opposite way, too – a quick look at www.saulttourism.com offers specific sections to help find places to cycle, hike, ski and participate in other outdoor adventures, for those who aren’t quite ready to move up north, but are looking for an active holiday.
Smith has seen many students at Sault College come to realize that the place they were only planning on spending a few years while they were at school actually had a lot to offer, and wouldn’t be a bad place to live.
“They like the space, they like the air, all the access to water,” she says. “Many will ask if I can give them a reference and help them find a job here. That quality of live that Sault St. Marie offers, that’s worth its weight in gold.”
This article is brought to you by the City of Sault Ste. Marie.