What to Ask on Your Boat Tour of Grand Island
Aboard the Paddling Michigan catamaran that circles Grand Island, you listen carefully as the tour guide remarks on the landmarks and landscape. He’s knowledgeable, pointing out the Jacobsville Sandstone in the rock layers and Lake Superior’s highest lighthouse.
As the tour rounds the final corner, the guide asks if anyone has questions, and you do love a good challenge question. But what to ask?
Keep reading! Consider this blog your easy reference guide to some interesting facts you might learn on your Paddling Michigan boat tour around Grand Island, along with follow-up questions that are sure to get your guide talking!
You might learn: Grand Island’s oldest rock formations are made up of a beautiful sandstone with a long history.
You might notice the sandstone near the lake line in this area has a distinctive red/pink/brown coloring. This layer is well-known in the geologic world as Jacobsville Sandstone, named after the quarry town in Michigan known for producing the sandstone. The sandstone makes up the majority of the bottom of Lake Superior and can be seen along Pictured Rocks, especially where it rises a few feet above lake level. The sandstone is thought to be millions of years old, making it the oldest exposed formations in the Pictured Rocks area.
Jacobsville sandstone was a popular building material around the turn of the century, known for its beautiful color and durability.
You might want to ask: Where could I see a building constructed with Jacobsville Sandstone?
You might learn: There are two lighthouses on Grand Island.
The waters surrounding Grand Island were a vital component of transportation in the 1800s, and without the benefit of today’s modern navigation tools, any land you didn’t want to sail into required a lighthouse.
Lighthouses were maintained by lighthouse keepers who lived in the buildings and had the often-dangerous job of keeping the warning lights on and visible to the enormous vessels making their way through the channels.
Grand Island has two lighthouses, the East Channel Lighthouse and the Grand Island North Light Station. Both structures were built in the 1800s and were in use for about a hundred years, after which it was determined the lights were no longer able to be seen by the ships in time to avoid the rocky shore.
East Channel Lighthouse was built first and is one of the most recognizable landmarks on the island. Grand Island North Light Station was constructed on a cliff 175 feet above lake level, making it the highest lighthouse in the US.
You might be wondering: Are the lighthouses open to the public?
You might learn: The waters surrounding Grand Island hold about 30 known shipwrecks.
When the Soo Locks were built in 1855, the Great Lakes became a highly traveled route for large ships traveling from the Midwest to the eastern seaboard. Over the next 100 years, about 30 vessels sank in the waters around Grand Island, with many more going down at other points in the Great Lakes.
One of the most famous shipwrecks near Grand Island is the Bermuda, which wrecked near Grand Marais in 1870. The Bermuda was raised and towed to Grand Island in 1883 in an effort to recover its cargo—about 488 tons of ore. Only a portion of the ore was unloaded before the ship filled with water and sank again in Murray Bay. The top deck of the Bermuda is only 12 feet below the surface, which makes it a popular destination for snorkelers and kayakers.
You might be wondering: What made this route dangerous for ships?
You might hear: Grand Island has a rich Native American history.
Long before European settlers came to North America, Grand Island supported the Ojibwe, a resourceful group of Native Americans who farmed and fished the land and surrounding waters.
Fishermen and fur traders who interacted with the Ojibwe people as far back as the 1600s reported their skill in birchbark canoe-making, copper mining, and maple syrup production. The Ojibwe (later called Chippewa) were the primary residents until the mid-1800s, after which the number of European settlers increased. The land was eventually purchased by the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company, and the last of the Ojibwe gave up their land after many unsuccessful attempts to compromise with settlers.
The Ojibwe were storytellers, and many of the legends told to their children are still told today. One such legend tells the story of Mishosha, the magician of Lake Superior. Mishosha lived on Grand Island, and he had a beautiful canoe that possessed the ability to travel anywhere on Lake Superior when Mishosha would slap the birchbark side and say the secret words.
Mishosha used this special power to rule all the islands of the lake, extending his realm well beyond Grand Island. Mishosha quickly discovered the wealth of resources each island offered. From Williams Island, he gathered seagull eggs, and he could sail to Michipicoten Island, where the eagles were so large he could climb onto their backs and fly. He could gather up the gold sands of Adkiminis (now known as Caribou Island) without fear of being devoured by the giant snakes who lived there. In minutes, Mishosha could travel to the farthest and largest island of all, Minong (Isle Royale). Minong’s soft copper was protected by sturgeons so large they could swallow a human in one gulp, but Mishosha and his canoe could gather it so quickly, the sturgeons couldn’t catch him.
For many years, Mishosha used his powers in a benevolent way. Grand Island was known as Enchanted Island, because of the man and his magical canoe. Mishosha lived there and made beautiful jewelry with his gathered treasures. But as Mishosha grew older, he became selfish and vindictive. He would capture his enemies and take them in his canoe to the distant islands to be devoured by the wild beasts that lived there.
One of these enemies was Panigwun; he enlisted the help of the sympathetic wood and lake spirits who had grown tired of Mishosha’s rule. With their help, Panigwun was able to outsmart the beasts on the islands, and eventually learn the magic words that controlled Mishosha’s canoe. One winter, Panigwun defeated Mishosha in a fierce battle on the snow and ice.
Mishosha froze to death, and the feathers in his headdress turned into leaves. His frozen legs grew into the roots of the giant birch tree on the edge of Grand Island.
At Paddling Michigan, we’re honoring this Ojibwe legend with the newest tour boat in our fleet, the Mishosa. The Mishosha was purchased in 2023 and can hold 49 passengers and two crew members.
Our Paddling Michigan boat tours are packed with Grand Island history and landmarks. And who knows? If you reach down, slap the sides of the Mishosha, and say the magic words, you just might feel it go a little faster than before.
You might be wondering: …but what ARE the magic words?
Need to know all of these answers for yourself?
Our Paddling Michigan tour guides would love to answer all of your questions on the Grand Island Boat Tour and our popular kayak tour! Let’s get you booked. Simply:
- Choose a nice day. (hint: any day on a boat is a nice day)
- Grab your travel journal.
- Book your tour!
Grand Island Boat Cruises, guided kayaking tours, unique overnight accommodations, dining options, and more are all available at Paddling Michigan! For even more hassle-free planning, we’ve bundled our most popular options into a selection of 1-day, 2-day, or 3-day all-inclusive travel packages.
Book now to reserve the best dates! We can’t wait to host you.