Monday, April 22, 2013


Happened to catch the webcam on Belle Isle at just the right moment last Saturday evening. My thanks to The Dossin Great Lakes Museum, and the Detroit Historical Society for these great photos.

Ambassador Bridge to Canada. Windsor Ontario is on the left.

The Detroit River makes a sharp bend toward the West. This makes Detroit the only place in the US where Canada is to the South. If you're doing genealogy research about the old French settlers don't be confused. If the records state birth or death place as the South shore, they are referring to the Canadian side of the river.

Vivian :)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


 The Nain Rouge–The Red Devil of Detroit

This past March 25th, the people of Detroit Michigan gathered together. Their objective? To chase the Nain Rouge from the streets of their town.  

Nain Rouge?  you ask. What's that? The name translates from French as Red Dwarf and the reason this guy hangs around Detroit goes back to its founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac who built Fort Pontchartrain on the banks of the Strait in 1701.  
Elves, dwarves, trolls, and even the Irish Leprachauns-- history is full of these mythical creatures, all of whom crave flattery, and are quick to be offended. The story of the Nain Rouge came to us from ancient Normandy in France. He is a a lutin or imp, a small, mischievous devil or sprite.

The French brought these old stories with them to the New World and the shores of the Detroit River and passed them down the generations.

One of the best versions of Detroit's Nain Rouge story is found in Legends of Le Détroit, by Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin. First published in 1883, the author claims in the book's introduction to have heard some of these stories from "the aged lips of ancestors who's memories extend into the last century." It's a great book, written in a lyrical style. My kids enjoyed it's strange tales too. It can be found in Google books. Legends of Le Détroit

On page 27 in this collection of old Detroit myths and legends a footnote describes the Nain Rouge as "... the demon of the Strait ... Most malignant if offended but capable of being appeased by flattery."

Mrs. Hamiln  describes a party in 1701 at the Castle of St. Louis in Quebec City, home of the French Governor of New France. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac is enjoying himself with the dignitaries of New France. After years as a successful Commandant of Michilimackinac he now revels in his plans to found a new post on "the Strait" between Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

A fortune teller arrives at the party and the amused guests offer their palm for her to read. They laugh  at the secrets she reveals about the guests, but when Cadillac offers his palm he says, "I have no interest in the past...tell me about the future."

The fortune teller predicts that Cadillac will found a great city. A city that will one day contain more inhabitants than New France, and it will reach a height of prosperity he could not imagine in his wildest dreams. Then she warns him to beware of his own undue ambition, that his policy of selling liquor to the Indians for furs is contrary to the wishes of the Jesuits and will ruin him.

"Be careful not to offend the Nain Rouge," the fortune teller says or your children will not see a vestige of your inhertance, and your name will be unknown in the city that you founded." The other guests go serious at her words but Cadillac laughs.  

In 1707 the settlement at Detroit is prosperous and growing. A crowd gathers before Cadillac's home  to celebrate May Day. He appears dressed in his blue uniform and cavalier hat with plumes. The crowd gets down on one knee and pledges loyalty to their Lord, the Fleur dis Lis (flag of France)  is raised and Cadillac is seated with his family on a gallery to watch the days festivities. As he watches his habitant's dance he is delighted with all he has accomplished.

When the party is over he and his wife take a twilight stroll through the Kings Garden. They cross paths with a small man with a red face and a gleaming eye. His smile reveals pointed teeth.

"It is the Nain Rouge," his wife whispers, but Cadillac strikes the man with his cane shouting, "Get out of my way, you red imp." There is a fiendish laugh as the dwarf disappears into the darkness ... and the rest is history.

That same year there is an investigation into Fort Ponchatrain's management. Cadillac is accused of selling liquor to the Indians, and falsifying the number of permanent inhabitants at Detroit. In 1709 he is called back to Montreal and arrested on charges of extortion and abuse of power. The  investigator's report is strangely similar to the headlines of today's Detroit.

"... report, submitted in November 1708, was a crushing indictment of Cadillac as a profiteer and of his policy as a menace to French control of the interior. It began by pointing out that Detroit was not the highly developed settlement which Cadillac was describing in his dispatches in order to induce the minister to separate it from Canada. Besides the military garrison and a few hundred Indians there were but 62 French settlers and 353 acres of land under cultivation. Over this domain Cadillac exercised a tyrannical rule which had earned him the hatred of white and red man alike. Tradesmen were obliged to pay him large sums of money for the right to ply their craft; a jug of brandy, which cost two to four livres in Canada, sold for 20 at Detroit."

The officials who had promoted Cadillac for so many years, hated admitting to their mistake and assigned him to a post in Louisiana, that he badly mismanaged. By 1717 officials were tired of Cadillac's drama. At his own request he was sent back to France and spent six months in the Bastille prison for publicly defaming Louisiana. He remained in France and sold all his land holdings in Detroit. At his death in 1730 only three of his thirteen children survived him.

The settlement at Detroit struggled on, often visited by that Red Dwarf. From sightings before the great fire of 1805 that destroyed the newly American city, to it's surrender to the British in the war of 1812, and even during the summer of Detroit's 1967 riots, the Nain Rouge remains a terrible urban legend that simply will not go away.

Unless of course he is routed out by Detroit's own citizens.