Ex-fire chief becomes Soo Locks’ next tour guide

SAULT STE. MARY — Former city fire chief Scott LaBonte is now gearing up to lead the next generation of Soo Locks boat tours.

LaBonte is now the general manager-in-training of Famous Soo Locks Boat Tours, a private tour guide company that operates in Sault Ste. Mary for decades.

Current general manager Richard Brawley plans to retire at the end of the 2022 season, but before he leaves he will be there to help train LaBonte and prepare him to run the tours on his own. LaBonte is currently working towards obtaining his 100 ton master license, which will allow him to steer the boat on excursions and cruises. LaBonte will also work in the boats, at the ticket office and with the board to understand all crew and office roles in the business.

According to Brawley, LaBonte was chosen for the job because of his management experience, employee training, communication skills and familiarity with the area.

“When I left the fire service, I was open to new opportunities.” LaBonte said in an email. “A lot of fire department skills transfer well to my new role at Famous – from supervising truck maintenance, to seasonal boat maintenance and inspection, to training our crew to ensuring the safety of our passengers, as well as managing a team, budgets and community awareness.”

Famous Soo Locks Boat Tours teach the history of Sault Ste. Marie and its well-known lock system for over 60 years. Since 1959, they’ve been making 90-minute trips down the St. Marys River on a journey that takes them through the locks and across and back. During the trip, passengers learn about the history of the locks, which are the largest parallel locking system in the world, and how it supports much of the US economy.

Tour boat Nokomis leaving Soo Locks.

“The Soo Locks are a major attraction here and provide visitors to our area and locals an opportunity to step through the locks and cruise through them,” said Allie Brawley, communications manager for Famous Soo Lock Boat Tours. “It’s a unique way to see our area and tour the area from the water. I would say the Sault Ste. Marie area has had quite a place in history.”

LaBonte will take over at the start of the season. The season begins with daily tours on Saturday May 14. The tour departs from 515 E. Portage St., next to the Valley Camp Museum Ship.