2006-06-29 / Front Page

Historical Society To Operate Fort de Buade Museum

Fundraiser Launched To Keep Straits Artifacts Here
By Paul Gingras

Determining what is authentic and what is not will be one of the Historical Society's major challenges. Here, the museum displays what appears to be an authentic Native American baby carrier, alongside a reproduction. The Society plans to seek the help of experts from Michigan State University and the University of Michigan to identify the pieces. This will enable them to create more definitive explanations for museum patrons to read. Determining what is authentic and what is not will be one of the Historical Society's major challenges. Here, the museum displays what appears to be an authentic Native American baby carrier, alongside a reproduction. The Society plans to seek the help of experts from Michigan State University and the University of Michigan to identify the pieces. This will enable them to create more definitive explanations for museum patrons to read. Hidden behind the Treasures and Trinkets gift shop in downtown St. Ignace is a historical gem, the Fort de Buade Museum, which has recently and temporarily been taken over by the Michilimackinac Historical Society The group has until November 1 to reorganize the displays, set up a new gift shop, and secure funding for the building to keep the unique collection of area artifacts and guns in the area. To do so, they are seeking donations and volunteers from the community.

Despite its impressive contents, the Fort de Baude Museum has been seen by few area residents, said Historical Society member Cheryl Schlehuber. Its obscurity is related, in part, to the layout of the building.

Susan Brown of Lapeer (left) and Cathie Risko of Lansing examine the elaborate collection of arrowheads in the Fort de Buade Indian Museum in downtown St. Ignace. The museum has recently been taken over by the Michilimackinac Historical Society to preserve the collection. Susan Brown of Lapeer (left) and Cathie Risko of Lansing examine the elaborate collection of arrowheads in the Fort de Buade Indian Museum in downtown St. Ignace. The museum has recently been taken over by the Michilimackinac Historical Society to preserve the collection. Behind the gift shop, the sizable museum is loaded with Native American, French, British, and American historical items and displays. The Fort de Buade collection emerged from the passionate, historical interests of Dr. Donald "Doc" Benson, who passed away last May and left the museum to his wife, Marylyn.

Thursday, June 15, she allowed the Historical Society to take over, granting the group time to gather the $500,000 necessary to buy the building and its contents. If the historical society is unable to do so, Mrs. Schlehuber said, St. Ignace will lose an irreplaceable collection that could significantly help develop "the story of St. Ignace" and promote tourism on this side of the bridge.

The Historical Society plans to promote the museum, reorganize the contents, solicit donations, and seek volunteers to help at the museum and store from now until the end of the season.

"Without support, our project will be hard to pull off," said Keith Massaway, president of the Historical Society. "We need community involvement."

"I appreciate the Historical Society's effort a great deal," Mrs. Benson said. "My husband wanted the collection to stay in St. Ignace. That's what he collected it for."

The Bensons traveled extensively, she added, and they collected wherever they went, concentrating on objects related to woodland Indians. Artifacts at the museum are from the immediate area as well as Canada and from woodland cultures in the western United States.

This summer, the Michilimackinac Historical Society is concentrating on learning how to run the museum, a process made easier by an anonymous donation of

$10,000, which will be used to pay the building's lease and utilities for the season.

Mr. Massaway described the variety of artifacts and objects inside as "stunning," and to help reorganize them, the Historical Society hired Darryl Brown as a consultant at its regular meeting Thursday, May 1. Mr. Brown will help streamline the displays, making sure everything is appropriate to the museum's focus, which will be on cultures active in the Straits area during the fur trading era, mainly French and Native American groups. Mr. Brown will also help promote the museum project. He has extensive knowledge of Native American history and culture, many years of experience in marketing, and is familiar with organizing events, Mrs. Schlehuber said.

As it stands, the museum is "a hodgepodge of eras and groups," Mr. Massaway noted. It includes Civil War artifacts, pre-Colombian artifacts, French and Native American artifacts, some authentic, and some not.

With the nearby Museum of Ojibwa Culture focusing exclusively on American Indians, a second museum with a somewhat different focus would be "nothing but advantageous for St. Ignace," Mr. Massaway said.

The museum is home to elaborate, symmetrical displays of arrowheads and stone tools. There are statues, early pieces of pottery, knives, and antique guns. It also hosts a full reconstruction of Chief Santigo's lodge, a local chief who passed away in the early 1900s, at 100 years old. His lodge includes tintypes of his family.

Elsewhere in the museum are English colonial uniforms, a reconstructed trading post, trapping and leather-making tools, period oil paintings, Indian dolls, quill work, even a letter written by Abraham Lincoln.

Deciphering what is authentic and what is not is one of the Historical Society's chief concerns. Professional assistance would enable the Society not only to determine objects' authenticity, but could also provide information needed to create explanations for certain artifacts and displays, information lost when Mr. Benson died.

Some of the objects, though valuable, would not belong in a museum with a Mackinac Straits historical focus, said Mrs. Schlehuber and Mr. Massaway, so to help raise money to buy the museum, the Historical Society hopes to sell objects that do not represent the area. There are buffalo guns (artifacts appropriate to the western United States) and Navajo crafts, for example. These would undoubtedly be appreciated by other museums, Mr. Massaway said.

In the process of reorganization, the Historical Society plans to completely revamp the current store front. The gift shop would be scaled down and streamlined to make the museum more prominent, and to highlight its theme and contents, Mrs. Schlehuber said.

"There has been a recent surge in 'cultural tourism,'" she added. "St. Ignace was once the capital of the new French world," so developing the Fort de Buade museum could help St. Ignace get on the cultural tourism map.

"St. Ignace is also the center of the fresh-water world," Mr. Massaway said, and this means it has a unique history that should be highlighted.

Throughout history, the area was noted for having good farmland and fishing, and its geographical characteristics made it a convenient place for traveling native groups to cross the Mackinac Straits.

Fort de Buade itself was built to protect missionaries, he added.

The Michilimackinac Historical Society, which is a 501c3 and 509a2 nonprofit corporation, plans to have a museum open house this summer.

Anyone interested in helping with the Fort de Buade project can contact the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce at (906) 643-8717.

Return to top


Click here for digital edition
2006-06-29 digital edition