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The First People, the French Timeline of Michigan Exploration, New England Migration and The Canoe as a Gift

By Dean Sandell

The First People

Chippewa refer to themselves as Anishinabek (Anishinabe, singular), means first man or original man.  Other names given to represent the Chippewa are Ojibwa and Saulter.  All are names used to reference the same people.  The Eastern Upper Peninsula was the fourth stopping place and homeland of the ‘Odaawaa’ in and around Sault Saint Marie, and Manitoulin/Drummond Islands.

The First People see the world as place full of living beings, all with a spirit and character to be respected – whether animal, tree, rock, water, or sky.  European (Western) culture sees a separation between humanity and nature.  Nature is perceived to be outside of, separate and apart from humankind.  More and more, contemporary people with their growing environmental awareness are seeing the greater significance of the harmony between the landscape and the people demonstrated by the original/Native People who lived along the route of the Seven Fires migration.

The British and some French are said to have changed the name to Chippewa.  Other French refer to them as Saulter.  The term ‘Ojibwa’ is used in Canada and ‘Chippewa’ is used in the United States (many additional names can be identified, but check which are the preferred names of the First People.)

The French Timeline of Michigan Exploration 

The first European, Etienne Brule (French), explored Michigan (1618-1619) following the St Mary’s River.

Jesuit priests, Isaac Jogues and Charles Raymbault, 1641, remarked about the Chippewa fishing in the fast moving water of the Sault.

French priests, trappers and explorers were in the upper Great Lakes in the 1650s –‘60s.

The Great Lakes Region was the third site of significant European exploration.  The first was Saint Augustine, Florida and the second area was the Southwest, in Arizona and New Mexico.

Groseilliers and Raddison explored the region in 1650s.

In Southeastern Michigan, Detroit was founded in 1701.  In 1780, Francis Navarre founded Frenchtown, which became Monroe.  French named places are scattered along their travel routes and settlement locations.


New England Migration

The second wave of Europeans to settle in Michigan were actually from New England and New York in the 1820-1890’s.  This was a major growth period for the area.  Yankees and Yorkers relocate from New England and New York to Michigan and they fostered significant economic development related to grindstones, lumber/saw mill business and framing and transportation industries.

French Canadians leave Canada during the Rebellion (around 1835-1837) and reportedly settled in the United States in areas along the Michigan coastline with close borders to Canada from the Thumb to Drummond Island and the Sault Saint Marie areas.

French lumber jacks in 1840 were involved in cutting the cork pine from the Sault Ste. Marie area to Saginaw Bay and the Thumb.

The Canoe as a Gift

The historic design and function of the canoe (and kayak) with their many adaptations remains remarkable unchanged. New materials may be used, but the same basic, simple design with its inherent flexibility allowed the canoe to be modified and used for new purposes.  All in all, this makes the canoe a significant gift from the North American Native People to the people of all times, from the past to the present.  Here is a description of the seventeenth century canoe adapted by the French for hauling freight on the Great Lakes:
“these vessels are perhaps the most extraordinary…scarcely anything can be conceived so inadequate from the slightness of their construction to the purpose they are applied…

thirty feet in length and six in breadth, diminishing to a sharp point at each end, without distinction of head or stern…

the frame is composed of some small pieces of some very light wood…it is then covered with the bark of the birch tree, cut into convenient strips, that are rarely more than the eighth of an inch in thickness…

these are sewn together with threads made from the twisted fibres of the roots of a particular tree and strengthened where necessary by narrow strips of the same materials applied on the inside.

the joints on the fragile planking are made water-tight by being covered with a species of gum that adheres very firmly and becomes perfectly hard.

No ironworks of any description, not even nails, are employed in building these slender vessels, which when complete weigh only about five hundred weight each.”

For centuries the canoe was the only watercraft used by the Indians for transportation, hunting and war expeditions.  Canoes were light weight and could also be easily concealed along the shore of a lake or in the thicket and rushes adjoining the rivers.  The French adapted the canoe as a vessel to support trade by increasing its length and width (approximately 30 feet long by 6 feet wide) to increase its carrying capacity.  The Great Lakes freighter canoes could carry upwards of five tons of cargo, and a crew of up to eight with their personal provisions.  As hardy as these crews were, they were not known for their swimming ability.

The French bateaux found use in the Upper Great Lakes shared characteristics with a canoe, a tapered bow and stern, shallow draft and approximate dimension, but it was the birch bark canoe, for a great number of years, that was the primary means of transit.  Freighter canoes traveled 1,100 miles, one way from Montreal, Quebec, Canada to Grand Portage, Minnesota.  Referring to inland navigation by canoe, a seventeenth century writer described the canoe and its importance, in Lachine, Canada, about nine miles from Montreal, the following:

"From Lachine the canoes employed by the Northwest Company in the fur trade take their departure. Of all the numerous contrivances for transporting heavy burdens by water, these vessels are perhaps the most extraordinary; scarcely anything can be conceived so inadequate from the slightness of their construction to the purpose they are applied to, and to contend against the impetuous torrent of the many rapids that must be passed through in the course of a voyage.

On being prepared for the voyage they receive their lading, which, for the convenience of carrying across the portages, is made up in packages of about three-quarters of a hundred weight each and amounts altogether to five tons, or a little more, including provisions and other necessaries for the men, of whom from eight to ten are employed to each canoe; they usually set out in brigades like the bateaux, and in the course of a summer upwards of fifty of these vessels are thus dispatched."

Drummond Island Tourism Association
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