Back on the road again! Gwen has planned for us to see a bit of the fall color as presented in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Lake Superior from above and below, and with help from Suzie, some of her favorite cities / towns in Wisconsin. So we started yesterday (I write this on Sunday, 29 September). The drive up from home to Sault Saint Marie in just a few hours, It was a pleasant drive, with one main stop along the way at Ft Michilimackanac.
To get to this frontier fort with a great history you take the last exit before the Mackinac Bridge — the very last exit. The entrance is located right under the bridge right at the edge of Lake Michigan in Mackinaw City. Michilimackinac was the major depot for the northwestern fur trade. Large canoes, weighted down with brandy, trade goods, and munitions, arrived from Montreal. Traders and voyageurs carried this merchandise on to Indian customers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ontario, and beyond. The Indians in the Great Lakes region include the Ogawa and Ojibwa (or Chippewa, as they are known in the US) tribes, as well as the Winnebago and the Menominee. Many traders spent the winter among Indian hunting camps. There they worked with the Indians to gather the furs and then collected the results. In spring, they brought their furs to Michilimackinac for shipment to Montreal. At the Straits, they rendezvoused with their friends and recent arrivals from Montreal and spent their wages in a few days of wild celebration.
The fort was built in about 1715 when the first French troops arrived. It seems that the Indians were not necessarily as friendly to the French (and each other) as a simple history might suggest. Several times, groups of French soldiers and friendly Indians were sent from the Fort to do battle with others, not always successfully. In any case, there were English voyageurs and traders who were also interested in working with t
he Indians. A complicated situation, and over years from 1715 to 1763 when the British took over as a result of the end of the French and Indian War, the fort was a unique central place for much activity. As indicated, the British took over in 1763, but then in 1781, the leader in place at the time decided to move the fort to Mackinac Island, and so over that summer, a fort was built on the island, and everything that was useful was moved to it. Upon completion, Fort Michilimackinac was burned to the ground, and left.
In the 1950’s, archeological interest in the orignal Fort was raised, and archeological digs began. Digs have occurred over the years, and due to the advanced techniques now available, much has been learned about the fort’s history and how the people lived. A full-size reconstruction has been built over the same space, and actors recreate examples of a few of the lives spent (at least partially) there.
This included an Indian site just outside the fort itself. Gwen gets a good look at the Indian house outside of Ft Michilimackinac.
The fort also had (at various times) an in-house friar (Jesuit) to save the souls, especially in summer when people were likely to be around, and their military contingent, French at first, and then British.
The interior fort area in addition to the several buildings that are meant to resemble the original structures, also has a green for military exercises. The military actors wear British colonial dress, as opposed to the French uniform dress.
The fort is right under the start of the Mackinac bridge, and sits on the Lake Michigan side of the narrow water passage from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. Continuing on the M75 above the bridge for another hour (through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) gets us to the US-Canadian bridge, across the straits between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. For the early inhabitants or visitors, the bi-Lake crossing between Lakes Superior and Lake Huron was more treacherous than the crossing from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan as it involves rapids and a change in height. Resolving this problem for shipping has led to what is known as the Soo Locks.
There are two lock channels built by the US on its side of the border, and one built by the Canadians on their side. The Canadian lock was the first to use electric power to manage the lock’s tasks when it was built in the late 1800’s. The US locks were built later, and through the events of time eventually came to handle the commercial traffic, while the Canadian lock now is used solely for private traffic.
Across the US-Canadian bridge
is Sault Ste Marie, the second largest city in northern Ontario, and the home of the Algoma Central Railway which is the focus of day 2.