Canadian Costume Reflected Lifestyle

French-Canadians adapted to the harsh climate of their new home with a variety of clothing, including coats called capots. Made from trade blankets, these simple coats were warm and practical, and proved popular with Canadians and Native Americans alike.

French-Canadians adapted to the harsh climate of their new home with a variety of clothing, including coats called capots. Made from trade blankets, these simple coats were warm and practical, and proved popular with Canadians and Native Americans alike.

Far from home and living in a harsh environment, the French residents of Michilimackinac and the rest of Canada were quick to adopt new styles of clothing. While French fashions remained popular for most people, many soldiers, voyageurs, and others who regularly interacted with Native Americans adopted their neighbors’ style of dress. Like Native men, voyageurs and soldiers on campaign frequently wore soft moccasins, breechcloths, and leggings. In 1749, Swedish traveler Peter Kalm noted that “the French [Canadians] dress as the Indians; they do not wear breeches.”

In warmer months, French voyageurs wore moccasins and breechcloths. The easily-removable leggings allowed them to jump in and out of the water as they hauled cargo around portages. Elaborately-woven sashes served as weight belts, protecting the men’s backs from injury as they carried loads over 100 pounds.

In warmer months, French voyageurs wore moccasins and breechcloths. The easily-removable leggings allowed them to jump in and out of the water as they hauled cargo around portages. Elaborately-woven sashes served as weight belts, protecting the men’s backs from injury as they carried loads over 100 pounds.

Other pieces of clothing were unique to French-Canadians. British trader Alexander Henry left a good account of the Canadian disguise he wore during his first secret journey to Michilimackinac in 1761: “I laid aside my English clothes, and covered myself only with a cloth, passed about the middle; a shirt, hanging loose; a molleton, or blanket coat; and a large, red, milled worsted cap.” The red cap (or tocque), blanket coat, breechcloth, and leggings were something of a uniform for French-Canadian men of the fur trade, and would have been seen regularly at Michilimackinac.

Behind the Scenes of New SSW Rowhouse Exhibit

While the construction on the South Southwest Rowhouse continues, our staff is hard at work developing the new exhibits that will be placed within the new building.

One half of the reconstructed rowhouse will feature an audio/visual presentation of the attack at Michilimackinac. Principal photography took place in the summer, but some additional shots were needed. What we’re shooting here is a re-creation of a meeting that took place in Charles Langlade’s house on June 3, the day after the attack. The surviving British prisoners (Etherington, Solomon, Henry, etc.) were all present, as was Fr. Du Jaunay. The meeting served two important purposes. First, Du Jaunay convinced Etherington that further resistance to the Ojibwa was futile and second, Langlade outlined his plans to protect the prisoners from their Ojibwa captors. Langlade personally secured the release of Etherington. He also sent word to the Odawa of L’Arbre Croche, who arrived shortly after and took the prisoners to the safety of their village. Henry became separated from the other survivors at this time, as he was taken into the home of his friend, Wawatam, for protection.

 

The photos were taken at Future Media in Okemos, Michigan.

Historic Views of Winter on Mackinac

As the new year begins and winter locks the Straits of Mackinac in its icy grip, today we look to a few historic views of winter on Mackinac Island. Click the images for an expanded version.

These soldiers from Fort Mackinac are bundled in Army-issued cold weather gear as they shovel a path down Fort Street sometime around 1890. Each man received a heavy wool overcoat as well as rubber boots, a fur hat, and mittens. Many of these men are wearing their winter hats, made from muskrat fur.

These soldiers from Fort Mackinac are bundled in Army-issued cold weather gear as they shovel a path down Fort Street sometime around 1890. Each man received a heavy wool overcoat as well as rubber boots, a fur hat, and mittens. Many of these men are wearing their winter hats, made from muskrat fur.

Main Street in downtown Mackinac Island is filled with snow in this view taken around 1900. Just like today, fewer people visited the island in winter, so the McNally Cottage boarding house (seen at far left) and Palmer House Hotel likely had few visitors when these boys played on the snow banks out front. Despite the snow, island residents may still have enjoyed parties at the town dance hall, visible just to the right of the Palmer House. Originally built as a roller skating rink, the dance hall became a motion picture theater by 1907. Today the building remains downtown, transformed into the Haunted Theater.

Main Street in downtown Mackinac Island is filled with snow in this view taken around 1900. Just like today, fewer people visited the island in winter, so the McNally Cottage boarding house (seen at far left) and Palmer House Hotel likely had few visitors when these boys played on the snow banks out front. Despite the snow, island residents may still have enjoyed parties at the town dance hall, visible just to the right of the Palmer House. Originally built as a roller skating rink, the dance hall became a motion picture theater by 1907. Today the building remains downtown, transformed into the Haunted Theater.

Lamps and Lenses: How Old Mackinac Point Shed its Light

What puts the light in a lighthouse? Until 1913, a single lamp provided the light for the beacon at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.

This lamp is similar to the one used in the first decade of the lighthouse's existence. It  was eventually replaced with a brighter, electric light.

This lamp is similar to the one used in the first 20 years of the lighthouse’s existence. It was eventually replaced with a gas lamp and then an electric light.

This diagram shows how even a small amount of light from the lamp could be magnified using a number of prisms in a Fresnel lens. (Click to enlarge)

This diagram shows how even a small amount of light from the lamp could be magnified using a number of prisms in a Fresnel lens. (Click to enlarge)

Like most other lighthouses in the United States, Old Mackinac Point used a kerosene lantern not unlike those still found in many homes today. Keeper George Marshall’s duties included regularly fueling the lamp, as it burned over 5 ounces of kerosene per hour. A red glass lamp chimney originally produced a red light, helping sailors identify Old Mackinac Point. Both the kerosene lamp and red light were replaced in 1913, when the U.S. Lighthouse Service installed an incandescent oil vapor mechanism, which produces a white light similar to a modern camping lantern.

While the kerosene lamp itself shone brightly, a fourth-order Fresnel lens amplified the Old Mackinac Point light until it was visible to a distance of 16 miles. The lens contained a series of stacked magnifying glasses around its center, with each glass focusing the light from the one beneath it. Prisms ringed the lens above and below the magnifying glasses. These prisms caught and bent more light, focusing it into the central beam created by the magnifiers. The entire lens rotated around the lamp, creating a flashing signature (one flash every 10 seconds) unique to Old Mackinac Point.

French Fireplaces of Michilimackinac

Shown on the left are the ruins of the original fireplace for the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. To the right, a reconstructed version and part of a new exhibit.

Shown on the left are the ruins of the original fireplace for the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. To the right, a reconstructed version and part of a new exhibit.

The ongoing reconstruction of the South Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac is an impressive undertaking. It’s the largest in the site’s history, the first in more than two decades, and when completed, will house two new exhibits.

One of the featured components of the new exhibit “France at Mackinac” are the ruins of the original fireplace from the structure constructed more than 250 years ago. This particular fireplace is one of the few remaining structures left standing after British soldiers demolished the fort in 1780-81. As part of one of the longest ongoing archaeological digs in North America, the remnants of the rowhouse and the fireplace were carefully excavated over a number of years from 1963 to 2007. Stone fireplaces such as this were found in nearly every house at Michilimackinac, but this is the only one that remains because it was covered and preserved in a hill of sand soon after the demolition.

Located in the west side of the building, the structure of this fireplace ruin  served as a model for Tom Smith and his crew from Ground Level Masonry to create a similar fireplace on the east end of the building, showing how the stone hearth would have looked when originally built around 1750.

Thanksgiving at Fort Mackinac

In the 1880s, both the civilian and military residents of Fort Mackinac celebrated
Thanksgiving day with rest and recreation.

On November 28th, 1883, Captain Edwin Sellers wrote an order commanding that regular duties be suspended the following day. “Tomorrow the 29th having been appointed by the President as a day of National Thanksgiving and prayer all duties will be suspended at this post during this day except the necessary guard and police.”

On November 28th, 1883, Captain Edwin Sellers wrote an order commanding that regular duties be suspended the following day. “Tomorrow the 29th having been appointed by the President as a day of National Thanksgiving and prayer all duties will be suspended at this post during this day except the necessary guard and police.”

Ten year old Harold Dunbar Corbusier kept a diary of his experiences while
living with his family at Fort Mackinac in 1883 and 1884. On November 29th, 1883
Harold noted the Thanksgiving holiday in his diary, writing “Today is Thanksgiving day.
We boys went skating on the pond. Mama and papa went to church.”

Thanksgiving was also a holiday for the soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac. The image to the right is a page from a collection of Fort Mackinac’s orders. The highlighted passage mentions the Thanksgiving holiday.

A History of Veterans Day

At 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, soldiers across Europe stopped fighting. Earlier that morning, German representatives signed an armistice with the Allies. The armistice, which went into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, effectively ended the First World War.

A year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as a holiday honoring American soldiers who died in the war. In 1938 Congress declared Armistice Day a national holiday dedicated to world peace. After World War II, veterans proposed changing the holiday to honor not just those soldiers killed in the First World War, but all American veterans. In response to these proposals, President Dwight Eisenhower officially changed the holiday’s name to Veterans Day in 1954.

Today, Veterans Day continues annually on November 11, honoring the service of all American veterans. Similar holidays of honor take place on November 11 in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, and other countries involved in World War I.

Today in History: Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse Fog Signal Sounded

On this day in 1890, Keeper George Marshall sounded the fog signal at the Old Mackinac Point Light Station for the very first time. This first blast of the fog whistle signaled the completion of a project begun a year earlier. In March 1889, Congress passed two acts regarding the creation of a light station at Old Mackinac Point. The first formally established the Old Mackinac Point Light Station, while the second appropriated $5,500 for the construction of a fog signal.

This photograph from the early 1900s shows Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the fog signal building. The inset image shows the two steam whistles next to the boiler vent stacks.

The fog signal sounded on November 5, 1890 was mounted on a 20’ by 40’ corrugated iron building. Inside, two identical steam boilers and associated machinery powered 10” steam whistles, which were mounted above the roof of the building. Although only one boiler and whistle were used at a time, keepers maintained the second set of machinery as a backup system. To help sailors identify the Old Mackinac Point fog signal, the fog whistles automatically sounded in a unique pattern: a 5-second blast, followed by 17 seconds of silence, followed by another 5-second blast, followed by 33 seconds of silence. Other light stations sounded their own unique whistle signatures.

The U.S. Lighthouse Service replaced the original 1890 fog signal building with a brick structure in 1907. New boilers and whistles were installed in this building. The fog whistles at Old Mackinac Point may have sounded like this: Click here to listen to a steam whistle.

The fog whistles themselves were replaced by air horns in the 1930s. Click here to listen to the fog horns at Old Mackinac Point Click here to hear it.

Click here for more information or to purchase a copy of one of Mackinac State Historic ParksOld Mackinac Point Lighthouse publications.

Halloween for Harold

Harold Dunbar Corbusier was the second son of William Henry Corbusier, post surgeon at Fort Mackinac, and Fanny Dunbar Corbusier.  He lived on Mackinac Island with his family from 1883 to 1884.  On his 10th birthday, January 14, 1883 he began his diary.

His entry for this day 129 years ago, with its original grammar and spelling, shows an excitement for the holiday festivities similar to that of a 10-year-old of the present day.

Harold (seated center) kept a diary of the daily occurrences around the Straits of Mackinac.

A Boy at Fort Mackinac, October 31, 1883: “It has been a very stormy rainy day.  It is All Hallowes eve we going to dive for apples but there wre none in town so we had to dive for potatoes we played games and mamma made candy I have a headache today.”

His brief  entries give us clues of what life was like on Mackinac Island in a period of great change.  This former fur trading outpost was beginning to receive many summer visitors, and the Mackinac National Park (established 1875) was a great attraction.  Harold recorded what he saw, and gives a detailed picture of what life was like for an army family.

For more information about Harold and purchase a book containing all of his transcribed diary entries, visit the Mackinac State Historic Parks website.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse Celebrates 120th Anniversary

Today marks the 120th anniversary of the first lighting of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City.

Workers pose outside the nearly completed Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.

Keeper George Marshall first lit the light on October 25, 1892 and workers completed the construction two days later.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse remained an active lighthouse until navigation beacons on the newly completed Mackinac Bridge replaced it.

The lighthouse is still open from May through October with guided tower tours, period exhibits and historic costumed interpreters. Click here for more information on visiting Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.