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?

Sledding down the long and steep hills on the front of  Mackinac Island was a favorite pastime for men, women, and children. Toboggans, sleds, and sleighs were all used to make the trek. Some made it as far out as onto the ice of Lake Huron, some even going through the ice – all safely.

Ice skating was another favorite pastime and ice was in abundance. As it snowed, shoveling and plowing of snow had to occur for the ice to be usable for a good skate. Ice sailing, either using a sail on skates or using iceboats, was popular. The sails caught strong winter winds and would glide passengers across the Straits of Mackinac at high speeds.

While playing in the snow to build snowmen and snow forts is an enduring outdoor activity then and now, the cold, wind, and snow did keep people inside, as well. Mr. Stanley’s Magic Lantern Show was a popular activity. Pictures were painted on glass and then projected onto a screen or wall. The Mackinac Island Literary Society debated or had speakers on a regular basis throughout the year. Other social clubs also popped up, as well as card playing, music gatherings, and dinners bringing people together. Churches met on a regular basis for services and socializing.

Work continued through the winter no matter what the weather. Cutting wood and transporting it across the ice and snow was a continual chore. Harvesting ice for icehouses to use during the summer brought many in the community together. Hauling water, gathering sap, and ice fishing kept the kitchen fires busy during the winter. Dog sleds and sleighs were often used as transportation to the mainland when the ice was strong and thick.

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