The story of Colonial Michilimackinac begins in 1715 when French soldiers built a fortified community along the Straits of Mackinac to support the booming French fur trade. Today, Colonial Michilimackinac is a National Historic Landmark, providing a glimpse into the life and times of a 1770’s frontier fur trade settlement.
It’s as if history has been frozen in time at Michilimackinac! This reconstructed colonial settlement and the surrounding displays depict life as it was during the mid-1770’s, when British soldiers, Native Americans, and French-Canadians all co-mingled and co-existed along this stretch of Lake Michigan.
Explore Life Inside 1770’s Fort Michilimackinac
Today’s Michilimackinac is a replica that has been painstakingly restored to it’s former glory based upon years of archeological studies and on-site excavations. Wondering why no original buildings exist today? That’s because the British up and moved them all way back in 1779-1781! That’s right. They completely disassembled the settlement and moved it to Mackinac Island. Their reason? They were fearful of attacks from American rebels.
Begin by walking through the fortified entrance, just like the villagers, fur trappers, Native Americans, and soldiers also did some 250-300 years ago. Summer was equally busy at the fort then as it is now. Perhaps even more busy, as thousands of Native Americans and French Canadian entrepreneurs gathered here to trade their goods.
Belly up to the counter in the reconstructed supplies store, much like traders of long ago did, intent on restocking their supplies for the next hunt. Perhaps the local shop keeper will be on hand to help you with a purchase today. Sorry, those rifles really aren’t for sale!
Scope out the village from along the fortification’s walkways. Wander into a merchant’s house to see how some of Michilimackinac’s settlers lived. Check out what their gardens grew, then partake in a period cooking demonstration. Imagine what food might have been on a Colonial Michilimackinac family’s dinner table that evening.
Dress and Play Like The Locals of 1770
Fort Michilimackinac was a military outpost build by the French, and was once occupied by British soldiers. It was a fur trading village. And it was home to settlers and their families who arrived here to support both the booming fur trading business and the military outpost.
Today’s Colonial Michilimackinac is very kid-friendly. So friendly that kids are not only welcome, they are encouraged to “become one” with the locals who lived here in the 1770’s. So go on, try on those red coats. Shoulder that rifle. Get ready to drill with the King’s Army. But why so serious boys? You really haven’t been conscripted into the British army.
Imagine family life at a colonial settlement deep in the woods of frontier Michigan. Become a member of a local merchant family. Wow, the jackets from the 1770’s aren’t nearly as comfortable as today’s jackets are. But you wear that hat well!
Kids then, as now, enjoyed their down time, complete with some game action. But it certainly was a different kind of gaming than today’s gaming. Watch closely as one of the “locals” demonstrates how to play. Then go on and try it for yourself. It’s not as easy as it looks, is it! Yes, today it’s all about the experiences!
Explore A Native American Encampment
Colonial Michilimackinac’s settlers weren’t the first people to live along the Straits of Mackinac. Long before fur trading and French settlements, this land was home to Native Americans like the Chippewa Indians. The story of Michilimackinac wouldn’t be complete without a glimpse into the lives of those who lived here long before the French arrived.
Step outside the fortified walls of Michilimackinac, and step into a reconstructed Native American encampment, complete with a teepee and a long house. Explore how the Native Americans lived off the land. Learn more about their role in the 1700’s fur trading business.
Step inside the teepee. It’s a tight squeeze for three boys. Just imagine how a whole family might have lived within this small, almost confining space. Wander through the nearby long house, examining as you go the furs drying on the walls, the cooking utensils gathered in the corner, and other evidence of life lived in a long house.
Last but not least, step up to an outdoor fur drying rack, much like the Native Americans would have used back in the 1700’s. Examine how furs were prepared for trading. Think about how this one item forever changed the landscape of this once wild region.
Partake in a Game of Baggatiway
Don’t miss the opportunity for a pick-up game of Baggatiway out near the Native American encampment. Never heard of baggatiway? You might be more familiar with a very similar game called lacrosse! French settlers thought this popular North American Indian game was very similar to their own game of lacrosse.
And they were correct in their assumptions! The original baggatiway was much like French lacrosse. Hardwood rackets laced with leather thongs were used to throw a small ball across the field to score against the opposing team. Not sure they wore safety glasses back then, though.
Baggatiway is the game of the day here at Michilimackinac. Grab a baggatiway stick, put on those safety glasses, and head out to the field for a lesson in how to play this fast-moving game. Fun was had by all who played, and those who watched all the action. 🙂
Plan a Day At Colonial Michilimackinac
Colonial Michilimackinac is located on the Straits of Mackinac. The fort sits within site of the renown Mackinac Bridge, which connects Lower Michigan with Upper Michigan. The park is open daily from early May into October.
Ready to plan your day here? Here’s a few links to help plan a day at Colonial Michilimackinac:
- Colonial Michilimackinac – Mackinac State Historic Parks
- Colonial Michilimackinac – Pure Michigan
- Colonial Fort Michilimackinac – Mighty Mac Org
- Colonial Michilimackinac – TripAdvisor
Tourists flock to this area of Michigan for the much more popular vacation destination of Mackinac Island. If your travels bring you to this northern-most tip of Lower Michigan, don’t miss the opportunity to also spend time at Colonial Michilimackinac.
Fun Times For Everyone at Michilimackinac
Was this a fun day, or what! One final look across the Straits of Mackinac from Fort Michilimackinac to end our day. Imagine what it must have looked like back in the 1700’s when the fur trade was king, and the only way to cross the water was by boat. Quite different than today, with the Mackinac Bridge dominating the nearby skyline!
Have you been to Colonial Michilimackinac? Did you have as much fun as we did? Do share your favorite memories of your day. Not been to the Mackinac area? Then you sure are missing out on some fun!
Images by C.Biederman