June 24, 2011 by Amy Elliott Bragg
A summer vacation fit for a hopeless Detroit history nerd
[Seeking wilderness, close to home: Heritage Park, Farmington Hills]
Summer vacation on the brain? Yeah, me too. Here’s a dorky trip I’d love to take some day:
In the summer of 1904, Detroit historian Clarence Burton — with his son Frank and John Wheeler Reid, a colleague from Burton’s Title and Abstract Company — set out to retrace part of Antoine Cadillac’s first voyage to Detroit. With Indian guides and birch bark canoes, the group set off from the eastern end of Lake Nippissing in Ontario and paddled the French and Pickerel Rivers to Georgian Bay. (Here’s a really crude Google Map I made, just for spatial reference.)
In “Early Days” (an essay excerpted in When Detroit Was Young), Burton writes of the voyage:
The country today is as wild and barren as it was in Cadillac’s time, and if he could again visit this scene, there is no doubt that the old landmarks that guided him then would again serve to show him his way through this vast waste of water and of rocks. The country is a great desert of rocks – rocks for miles and miles – no trees of any size, and underbrush only in the crevices of the rocks where the accumulation of the dust of ages has been sufficient to sustain a little vegetable life … The scenery is perfectly wild, and the route we took is doubtless the one used by all travelers for the past two hundred and fifty years.
Burton, who could be kind of a grouch, didn’t really care for sleeping on the ground and eating out of cans, according to his biographer (and granddaughter-in-law) Patricia Owens Burton in Clarence Burton: Detroit’s Historian.
When Reid went downstream to fish and returned with fresh pickerel, at the boss’s request, Burton allegedly turned to his son “with a look of annoyance” and said: “I’d like to see him pick out an abstract.”
We’ll revisit Mr. Burton’s life soon. You’ll like him.
Wishing you an adventurous weekend,
The Night Train