MiGreatPlaces: Les Cheneaux Maritime Museum

Northern Michigan was and always will be a vacation destination.

But where people go and how they get there has changed a lot over the last century.

And even in an age when there weren’t cars or roads to get you from there to here, people still did.

Tonight, Corey Adkins gives us a look at a major form of transportation from the Les Cheneaux Maritime Museum in MiGreatPlaces.

They may not be the names you recognize from history books, but they were certainly a part of the past in the Les Cheneaux Islands.

“Most of the boats that area in the museum are boats that have been used here in the Les Cheneaux Islands and donated here. So that’s one of our features we try to preserve the local boats and most of them have been work boats that have worked in this area,” explains boat shop manager Paul Wilson. 

And in an area surrounded by water, this museum makes perfect sense. When you have 36 islands, boat is the standard form of transportation.

Museum worker Pat Smith says, “The islands demanded you needed a little boat to get back and forth and many cottages had several little boats. Not everybody could have a big Chriscraft, most of them had just small boats to get back and forth and to just fish, lots of fishing.”

That is still true today, but what you see here is from the heyday of the islands; a booming tourist destination in the early 1900’s.

Paul explains, “They would take a train for example from the Ohio area up to Mackinaw City and then there was a transit boat that brought them over here to the islands and dropped them off at the different docks for the hotels that were here. The people had to get from the mainland where most of the groceries and other supplies were sold out to the house and cottages on the island and the boats were built locally.”

Today those hotels have all since shut down or burned down. Photos, relics and stories here remind us of the very different time.

“My mother-in-law used to talk about from their cabin seeing all the servants all in their uniforms on Sunday afternoons going up and down the channels in their boats,” Pat says. 

Most of those boats, built locally and part of the allure here today is seeing Paul Wilson use those old traditions to build a new boat.

“We try to show what might have been done here in the islands earlier. We have gone into some modern techniques now for example this form that i’m leaning against is a form that’s used to build a 17 foot wood canvas canoe and we have probably a half dozen wood-canvas canoes upstairs that were used on the islands in the early days,” says Paul. 

He helps build a boat every year that will be raffled off to help support the museum. A place that reflects on the past, and brings a part of it to the present.

“But it’s the slow pace, it’s the comfortable life that you might have experienced lets say back in the 50’s when before the superhighways and the fast pace of life, we’ve just got a slow, comfortable convenient way to live our summers and winters.”