Preparing for the Season

Preparing for the Season

The site (between the barrels) buried under several feet of snow.

After the spring melt.

Ready to excavate.

Spring has sprung in the Straits of Mackinac region, and with spring comes the preparation for another archaeological field season. Regular blog readers will remember that at the end of last season we lined the site with heavy plastic sheeting and bales of straw. The long snowy winter was very good for preventing the wall from slumping too much. When we removed the straw and plastic last week, the site was in fairly good condition. (more…)

Winter in the Lab

Winter in the Lab

The long winter has given the archaeology staff plenty of time in the lab to process and catalog the artifacts from the over 500 separate contexts excavated at Michilimackinac during the 2018 field season. A context is a single soil type in a tenth of a foot level in a 5’ x 5’ square. (more…)

Ice Fishing at Michilimackinac

Ice Fishing at Michilimackinac

Archaeologists excavated this nearly-completed whitefish skeleton from a trash pit in the southwest corner of the fort. It is now on display in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit.

Right now, it’s cold at the Straits of Mackinac. The straits are almost completely iced over, apart from slim shipping tracks kept open by Coast Guard icebreakers. While today those of us who live here can drive our cars to the store for food regardless of the ice conditions in the straits, the 18th century residents of Michilimackinac were much more limited in their choices of food. For the most part, during the winter they relied upon foods that had been shipped in and stockpiled before snow and ice closed trade routes on the lakes and rivers of the Great Lakes watershed. Fortunately, there remained a ready supply of fresh food just under the ice covering the Straits of Mackinac: fish. (more…)

Forts Mackinac and Holmes in 1815

Forts Mackinac and Holmes in 1815

Captain Charles Gratiot, an American engineer officer, sketched both forts on Mackinac Island during the summer of 1814. Fort Holmes, here named Fort George by the British, was nearing completion when Gratiot made this sketch. National Archives

At Mackinac State Historic Parks, we are fortunate to have a huge variety of historic information available to help us protect, preserve, and present the resources under our care. Our archives and artifact collections contain numerous descriptions and depictions of the historic sites we manage, providing unique snapshots in time. A great example of these descriptive works is a report written by Lt. Col. Talbot Chambers in September 1815, soon after American troops returned to Mackinac Island following the War of 1812. (more…)

The Extreme Cold of Winter

The Extreme Cold of Winter

A stream at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.

Here on the shores of the Straits of Mackinac we usually are protected from the really hot summer temperatures and the very cold winter temperatures that are recorded in those parts of Michigan that are more than a few miles from the deep waters of the Great Lakes. (more…)

Winter at Old Mackinac Point

Winter at Old Mackinac Point

At most light stations on the Great Lakes, winter was a quiet time for the lightkeepers. With commercial freighters and passenger vessels frozen in their harbors for the winter, there was little traffic on the lakes to warrant keeping light stations operational. Some remote lights were even abandoned every winter, with crews returning only when the ice began to break up in the spring. At Old Mackinac Point, however, keepers stayed at the station and even continued to work once snow started falling. (more…)

Winter Recreation on Victorian Mackinac Island

Winter Recreation on Victorian Mackinac Island

Most stores have closed, many hotels and cottages have been boarded up, and we have had the first snow of the season on Mackinac Island.  Winter on Victorian Mackinac Island was much like it is today – boats stopped running, winter provisions were stocked, and the smaller island population could be cut off the from mainland often. While ice breakers, the internet and planes keep present-day Mackinac Island more connected than ever before, what did island residents do in the past in the wintertime? (more…)

Surviving the Canadian Climate: British Winter Uniforms

Surviving the Canadian Climate: British Winter Uniforms

von Germann

Friedrich von Germann sketched this British soldier dressed for the Canadian winter in 1778.

Capot

As depicted in von Germann’s drawing, British soldiers donned blanket coats, wool leggings, and fur-trimmed “Canadian caps” to keep warm in wintertime.

When the men of the 8th Regiment arrived at Michilimackinac in 1774, they, like the rest of the British army posted in Canada, found themselves in a remote wilderness with pleasant, temperate summers and harsh, bitter winters. The Canadian winter climate was significantly cooler than what most soldiers were accustomed to in Britain. Fortunately, several uniform pieces allowed these men to live and even fight in the coldest of Canadian winters.

Leggings

With the lapels buttoned over, collar turned up, and tails let down, a soldier’s regimental coat helped protect him from the cold. Blue wool leggings further protected his legs.

(more…)

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.