Sunday, August 26, 2012


The Oxford American Dictionaries defines the word "lake" as a large body of water surrounded by land. Obviously the Oxfords have never been to Michigan. I mean there's large bodies of water surrounded by land ... and then there's sweet water seas, as the early French called the Great Lakes. 

The two peninsulas of Michigan, surrounded on three sides by Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron, give the state more coastline than any other in the US, except Alaska.

The Great Lakes system begins with Lake Superior in the far North. Fifty three rivers feed its 31,700 sq. miles of surface water, the combined area of several small US states. Beginning in Duluth Minnesota, Superior ends 350 miles east, at the St. Mary's River, and the City of Sault Ste. Marie MI, where the Soo Locks control more than a twenty foot drop into Lake Huron.

Split Rock Lighthouse, Silver Bay, Minnesota
Duluth Minnesota, photo by Jakes18

Ice on North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota taken by Jeff Gunderson

December, 1999, the motor vessel Oglebay Norton passes safely through the St. Marys River after Coast Guard icebreakers did their job earlier on the river  

A one thousand foot freighter inches into one of the Soo Locks

Since the French sailing ship Le Griffon, vanished in Lake Michigan in 1679, to the seven hundred foot freighter, Edmond Fitzgerald, lost during a storm on Superior in 1975, there are almost five thousand shipwrecks lying at the bottom of the Great Lakes. Shipwreck tours and museums abound in Michigan. 

Just imagine taking on a lake the size of Superior in a canoe, as the early French explorers did.               


Friday, August 10, 2012


The French first settled along the Detroit River in 1701. Sixty years later, Detroit was lost to the British and after the American Revolution it became part of the United States. Immigrants from all over the world flooded the region until French was no longer heard on the streets of Detroit. 

Yet those first French settlers are not gone. Their names dot the street map of modern Detroit––Beaubien, Campau, St. Aubin, St. Antoine, Charlevoix, Dequindre, Navarre, and hundreds more. Their 10th great grandchildren still carry their French names.

On the Canadian side of the Detroit River, many still speak French. According to Wikipedia, River Canard Ontario just south of Windsor, "... is home to one of the last vestiges of the French-speaking inhabitants of the Detroit River Region...",_Ontario

And the Virtual Museum of Canada claims that, "... vestiges of ancient eras remain, echoes of old Détroit that can still be heard in the folklore that was handed down through oral tradition for more than three hundred years." Who Are the Detroit River French?  
Occasionally the strange tales of the old French rise up to the streets of Detroit too, as every spring Detroiters are Chasing the The Nain Rouge From Detroit.
No one ever truly conquers the French. 

Friday, August 3, 2012


The Mackinac Bridge joins Michigans Lower and Upper Peninsula

Everyone has heard of Mackinac Island. Situated between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas, it's been a tourist haunt for over a hundred years, famed for it's Grand Hotel, horse drawn carriages, jetboat ferries and fudge.

But tucked away under the Mackinac Bridge on the lower peninsula is my favorite place to discover Michigan history––Colonial Michilimackinac. According to the Jesuit Relations, the odd name derives from the Mishinimaki or Mishinimakinagog, an Algonquin tribe that first occupied Mackinac Island.  This fort and fur trading post first built around 1715, was reconstructed according to fifty years of archeological evidence.

From colonial women cooking real meals over an open hearth, to Native Americans sitting outside their lodge, to the redcoat explaining why British soldiers were required to have at least two teeth in their mouth, and the fur trapper explaining why beaver pelts were valuable and where the term "mad hatter" came from––Colonial Michilimackinac's historical interpreters are fun and interesting. It's a great time for all ages.

Here's a video from the  
Colonial Michilimackinac website.

My own photos are below, along with a map. 

Michilimackinac was lost to the British in 1761 after the French and Indian War, but life continued on for those settled there. Even after a surprise attack by the local Ojibwe as part of Pontiac's Rebellion in June 1763, marriages went on during the year the Indians held the fort.
Married at Michilimackinac

The British regained Michilimackinac, but in 1781 they removed all its structures to Mackinac Island and burned the remains of the fort. Today Archeologists at Michilimackinac, dig for bits and pieces of French Michigan history.