2017-03-16 / Columns

Les Cheneaux

By Helen Shoberg
484-2626 • hcshoberg@gmail.com

This week I am starting out by going back approximately 50 or more years ago, and will repeat a story that I wrote 25 years ago about Slack’s Camp on the shore of Urie Bay on Marquette Island.

Slack’s Camp was the name of one of the early resorts in the Les Cheneaux area. Built in the early 1900s, it was operated by Ed Slack, until the early 1940s. Although it was built during the era of the summer hotels, Slack’s Camp was one of the earliest resorts offering private cottages to vacationers seeking good fishing and the beauty of nature. It was also known as the “Home of the Huckleberry Pie.”

Scattered along the shoreline were nine cottages, ranging in size from a single room to eight rooms. A central dining hall and a recreation hall completed the camp, and seeing it in old photographs, one can imagine the summer evenings of games, music, and fun that took place there. Sunday dinner at Slack’s, including the famous huckleberry pie, was an occasion to be remembered.

In an old brochure entitled “Map of the Snows,” Slack’s Camp is described as an “ideal resort for rest and pleasure. It is noted for good boarding and beds. $12 per week covered all expenses such as room and board, launch excursion, fishing boats, bait, and tackle.” One can only guess at the date of this advertisement. It is hard to imagine any vacation being that inexpensive. Today, it is more like $12 an hour.

The Slacks operated a 42-foot-long excursion boat called Navis, which made daily trips between Slack’s Camp and Cedarville to accommodate guests arriving at the Cedarville dock by steamer from Mackinac Island. Built in 1911, the launch could carry 27 people. It had a brightly colored cabin top with scalloped-edged canvas and roller shades. It even boasted a head enclosed by stained glass windows. One can imagine the picture this launch made to onlookers from the shoreline as it passed down the channels of Cedarville.

Few of the original cottages and buildings of Slack’s Camp remain. One or two of the better buildings were renovated for summer living by individuals who bought property out there in later years. During the 1930s, George Honnila operated the Navis for excursions and used it as a ferryboat, carrying passengers from the mainland to the Elliot House on Big LaSalle Island for Saturday night dances. Sold to a summer resident in 1963, the Navis was remodeled, and still may be plying the waters somewhere. Does anyone know what happed to this boat? It would make interesting reading for some of our antique boat buffs.

A thought came to me as we were talking recently about the names given to various places in the Les Cheneaux Islands. Les Cheneaux has many unusual names for islands, and examples of some of these names are still evident, but many others cause reflection and speculation. It is really fun to let imaginations run riot.

The name “Les Cheneaux” is definitely a French name; it is one that many have translated differently. It was named before the memory of anyone living today, and is generally thought to mean “The Channels.” This seems to fit very well, but it was also called “Chennoes” by the early Indians, and so the area now is called “Les Cheneaux” or “Snows.”

The names Cedarville and Hessel are no puzzle. Hessel took the name of its first postmaster, John Hessel, and Cedarville was named for the cedar lumbering surrounding it. Dollar Island is said to have been bought for a dollar, but was Penny Island purchased for only one penny, or was it named for its shape and size?

Bear, Crow, and Goose islands are all supposedly named for the animals and birds most abundant on them, but where did Goat Island get its name? Was Search Bay and Rover Island the scene of a man or a dog hunt? And how did Blind Line Road and Swede Road get their names?

St. Martin Bay, Reef, and Point islands were named after the patient Alexis St. Martin, of Dr. William Beaumont on Mackinac Island, whose operation on St. Martin made it possible to observe for the first time, the action of digestion in the human stomach.

Spectacle Reef resembles a giant pair of spectacles, but what about Peek-a-Boo Hill? There is an Island No. 8. Were there also islands No. 5, 6, and 7? Echo Island was named for the excellent quality of the echoes bouncing off its rocky shores. Cube Pointe once was called by the Indian name, Animikiwab, later shortened to Kiob, and has been modernized to Cube. But what about Lone Susan? Does anyone know?

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