Wednesday, June 27, 2012


The City of Detroit celebrates 311 years of settlement this July 24th. 

As a child, growing up near Detroit, I thought the river that ran between Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie had always been lined with smokestacks, factories, mountains of coal, and warehouses. Eventually, genealogy sparked an interest in the history of Detroit.

Research led me to the Clark Historical Library's exhibit, "I arrived in Detroit" and Antoine de la Mothe's 1702 Report describing the Great Lakes and his new settlement at Detroit.

It is difficult to imagine the Detroit River in 1702.  Who would have thought fruit trees and grapevines once grew wild along its banks and that eventually it led to a prairie where bison, or wooly oxen as he called them, grazed. 

"On the banks and round about the clusters of timber there is an infinite number of fruit trees, chiefly plums and apples. They are so well laid out that they might be taken for orchards planted by the hand of a gardener.

On all sides the vine is seen; there are with some bitter and rough grapes, - others whose berries are extremely large and plump. There are also white and red grapes, the skins of which are very thin, full of good juice."

"But 15 leagues from Detroit, at the entrance to Lake Erie, inclining to the south-south-west, are boundless prairies which stretch away for about 100 leagues. It is there that these mighty oxen, which are covered with wool, find food in abundance."

Grapevines and apple trees? Tall grasses with bison?  I thought about this description as I looked for a book cover.

The closest I could find to what Cadillac might have seen was the Nature center at Lake St. Clair Metropark, a marshland, and forest, and beautiful place to visit any time of the year.

South of the lake, on the other side of the Detroit River in Windsor Ontario, is  the Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve. I've made a note to visit there soon. It appears to have the tall grass prairie that Cadillac spoke of but sadly no buffalo. 

Detroit-River Nature-Preserve
Below are some photos of the Detroit River today. I snapped these from the Canadian side during a visit to Windsor Casino.

Detroit-River from Windsor-Casino
Detroit River facing North, as it surrounds Belle Isle

Detroit-River Freighter
Freighter heading south, down river

Detroit-River Detroit-Skyline
Detroit's Renaissance Center, now GM Headquarters, and downtown
Thanks to Vito Palmisano for this great photo

Amazing what 311 years can do to a place.