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Historical: Whitney Bay AreaHistorical: Whitney Bay Area

By Dean Sandell


Imagine for a moment, that you are a NASA astronaut, standing on the surface of the moon and watching the Earth rise over the moon horizon and the dark of space.  As the Earth rises, the blue Earth also turns and reveals a familiar (and green) outline, the East coast of North America.  A thin blue line (the St. Lawrence River) traces into the interior of the North American Continent and expands into the blue forms that hold twenty percent (20%) of the world’s fresh water resources, the Great Lakes.  Given that only 1% of the water on the surface of the Earth is potable, fresh water, having 20% of the world’s fresh water locked up in the Great Lakes is truly amazing and significant.


If you were to measure the length of the blue coast on the interior of North America it is surprising to realize that the 3,300 mile coast line of the Great Lakes is longer than the East or West Coast.  The Third Coast, of the Sweet Water Seas, as the 17th Century French explorers called the Great Lakes, is the longest United States coast except for the coastline of Alaska.


The St. Lawrence River that leads to the interior of North America traces or follows the Native American migration routes, of the 16th and 17 century.  The rivers and lake were the super highways for Native Americans, traders, missionaries, explorers and military movements, and Drummond Island was the main intersection for it all.  Virtually all the early travelers followed the same course into the Great Lakes and the interior of North America, and when they reached Drummond Island there was a choice to be made. If the desired destination was North and west travelers would turn north and travel the St. Marys River into Lake Superior; if the destination was to travel south to the Gulf of Mexico, or loop back east, travelers would turn south in the upper Lake Huron or continue west into Lake Michigan and wend their way into the Mississippi River system.

The great powers of the 17th and 18th centuries, France and England, fought for control of the region for economic reasons and the United States of America emerged out of that struggle.  The War of 1812 represents the end of the Revolutionary War and the establishment of the final boundary of the United States and Canada and the English frontier.  It is truly amazing to sum up just how important the rivers and lakes of the North American interior were at that time, and how significant they remain even today.

As the view of the earth rises over the moon’s horizon, it is with a great sense of awe we note the unique image of the Great Lakes, their location on the globe, and the importance of the central location of Drummond Island.  It has been a major intersection for water based travel for hundreds of years.


Here are some of the highlights that make Drummond Island such an important ‘paddlers destination’. It has to do with history, culture, environment, recreation and geography.  An internet review and account of a kayaker’s journey through the fifty plus islands of the Drummond Island Archipelago describes the exceptional paddling opportunity that Drummond Island offers.


There’s a newly published Drummond Island Tourist Association recreation map, locating access points, shipwreck locations, paddle tour themes for various parts of Drummond Island featuring historical, geological, cultural, environmental, wildlife and fisheries points of interest.  The map includes a grid to help navigate the open water paddling opportunities of the area, GPS coordinates for shipwrecks parking and swimming beach locations for paddlers access to the water, buoy locations for navigation and safety, as well as points of interest like the Betsy Seaman Park, to beach your kayak and walk to the Drummond Island Historical Museum, open daily from 1-5 PM.


Access to the water is easily available from marinas, resorts, lodges, township park, swimming beaches. Some sites will require a fee for parking/security, while there are ‘no-fee’ access sites, as well.  There are ample sites to launch your canoe and kayaks.


Fort Drummond

Parking and launching:  Fort Drummond Marine & Resort

Distance one way:  

Fort Drummond Marine to Back Bay and around Duck Island.   0.7 miles

Level: Beginner

Fort Drummond Marinee to Fisher Island.   1.1 miles

Level: Intermediate

Fisher Island to DeTour Reef Light (Lighthouse).   1.9 miles

Level: advanced or Expert

Exploration of the site of the last British fort to be constructed in the United States of America must be done by water.  This historic site is privately owned and occupied.  Chimney ruins from the fort’s infrastructure are visible from the water.  
Photo by D. Sandell

Exploration of the site of the last British fort to be constructed in the United States of America must be done by water.  This historic site is privately owned and occupied.  Chimney ruins from the fort’s infrastructure are visible from the water. One chimney is incorporated into an owner occupied cottage, while another stands alone as a faint reminder of the sites history. Fisher Island located in Whitney Bay originally was called Target Island because the British used it as just that and Surgeon Island got its name because the British doctor lived there.  The fort was intended to control shipping from a great fortification nearly one hundred feet above the ‘channels of commerce’.  What is so interesting is that the fort was actually built after the War of 1812, which was settled in 1815 when the Treaty of Ghent was signed and ended the war.

The British assumed that Drummond Island was going to remain outside the new national boundary and jurisdiction of the United States. Seeking a new and more strategic location than Fort St. Joseph, from which the British could control the lucrative fur trade shipping routes the British authorized the construction of a new fort. The Fort was to intended to be constructed as the ‘Gibralter of the Northwest’.

The fort had a military force of 350 - 400 soldiers and officers occupied the fort grounds.  Several hundred Indians lived near the fort and at the height of the fur trade up to 4500 people could/did assemble at the fort for the annual presentation of presents to the Indians and fur traders. Now there is very little evidence of the fort and it impact on the landscape.  From the water it is possible to see one of the chimney standing independently, as a memorial to the fort and its place in history.

What is so interesting is that the fort was actually built after the War of 1812, which was settled in 1815 when the Treaty of Ghent was signed and ended the war.
Photo by D. Sandell

DeTour Reef Light

DeTour Reef Light is a more modern historical setting, well worth seeing up close.  The DeTour Reef Light is accessible from Whitney Bay.  It is a magnificent restoration and a tour of the light can be arranged through the local restoration group (see information this website)  The wind and waves can build to make paddling an adventure fit for only the most highly skilled paddler, please remember when kayaking to the “lighthouse” you are crossing a very busy international shipping lane.

Whitney Bay Access

Access to the water and opportunity to view the remnant fort chimney ruin is best found at the very pleasant camping and launch site at the Fort Drummond Marine and Resort located south of M-134 on Whitney Bay Road.  Before going south towards the fort and DeTour Reef Light head north and travel to the east of Duck Island.  Here you will see large boulders in the water and when the sun is right sometimes you can catch bass on the shaded side.  Clear the channel and enter the Back Bay as the locals call it.  Here you may see fishing boats or other kayakers turn and travel back on the west side, where you will find deeper water and even a beaver lodge.  Fort Drummond Marine is within a well-sheltered bay that makes it reasonable for even a novice paddler to venture into history.

Drummond Island Tourism Association
P.O.Box 200 Drummond Island, MI 49726
906-493-5245 or 800-737-8666
Email: drummondislandtourism@alphacomm.net

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