As St. Ignace celebrates its 350th anniversary, we take a look back at its intriguing history—and where the city is heading in the future.

When we turn onto N. State Street, heading toward downtown St. Ignace, we’re greeted by endless views of Lake Huron, with Mackinac Island off in the distance. We’ve got about an hour before our first of four interviews with local residents who will help us get our heads around 350 years of history in this region. We decide to check out the Historic Walking Tour along the Huron Boardwalk, recommended by the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau. A morning stroll by a Great Lake? Count us in. The boardwalk begins at Kiwanis Beach and stretches to American Legion Park—about a mile and almost all of it is waterfront. Along the way, historical markers share some of the city’s story.

We read that the last Pleistocene glacier retreated across this region 10,000 years ago, leaving behind the Great Lakes, and the first human inhabitants arrived shortly after. By 1600, the Native American population of the Great Lakes Basin, which includes what are now surrounding states—Wisconsin, Ohio, New York and more—along with parts of Canada, exceeded 100,000. The tribes gathered seasonally in villages of 100–500.

In 1671, St. Ignace was established when Father Jacques Marquette moved his mission from Mackinac Island to the north side of the Straits, naming it in honor of the founder of his Jesuit order, St. Ignatius Loyola.

Photo by Allison Jarrell

As we continue exploring the boardwalk, we stop at a Mackinaw Boat built in St. Ignace in the late 1800s—this boat design was developed by the French (based on Native Americans’ birch bark canoes) and commonly used on the Great Lakes when harbors and docks were scarce. Farther along, we admire the Wawatam Lighthouse—we didn’t know at the time, but later in the day, we’ll meet the man who brought it here.

While we walk, we make mental notes of the many restaurants with outdoor seating and views of the water (for dinner later!). But, now it’s time to meet some locals, and hear about the city’s history from their perspectives.

August 19–22, join in the 350th Celebration with four days of workshops, demonstrations, parades and more. View the full event schedule below.

Keith Massaway / Director, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians

It’s fitting that we’re at the Museum of Ojibwa Culture to learn about the area’s Anishinaabe history from Keith Massaway—his philosophy is that history is best learned by listening.

Keith, a director of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, grew up fascinated by the local stories he often heard firsthand.

“Part of the Anishinaabe way is listening. The older people I knew, I would listen to what they had to say about the town, about what happened,” Keith says. “Very rarely is it going to be the same way that you read about; it’s going to be explained differently from a personal viewpoint. I learned a lot from that. It just takes a little time to sit down and talk to people.”

Housed in a former Catholic church, the museum is striking, surrounded by native plants and outdoor exhibits tied to Anishinaabe culture. The Knights of Columbus had a museum in this space in the ‘50s, and Keith estimates that the Museum of Ojibwa Culture opened in the ‘80s or ‘90s.

Today, exhibits walk visitors through the first chapters of the upper Great Lakes—from the rich archaeology and history of the 17th century Huron Indian Village and Father Marquette’s French Jesuit Mission, to local Ojibwa (Chippewa) traditions. There’s a display honoring the bravery and sacrifice of Native American veterans, and a wall dedicated to the devastating history of Native American children forced to attend boarding schools in an effort to remove their culture and heritage (more than 100,000 indigenous children across the country were sent to these schools).

At the center of the museum is a map titled, “Michilimackinac: The Gathering Place 1671-1701,” which shows a small glowing dot over St. Ignace, set at the center of a larger circle encompassing much of the Great Lakes region. Keith explains that St. Ignace is the “center of the freshwater world”—indigenous peoples all congregated in Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace for trading, making the area a natural place to settle.

In just a short hour, Keith brings each exhibit to life with his knowledge—a gift, it seems, that he inherited. As we walk the property, we see Ojibwa “doodems,” or animal totems, representing clans along the outside of the museum. Keith explains that one is born into these clans—fish, loon, eagle, etc.—and they symbolize your strengths and duties. His clan? The crane.

“Crane clan members—we speak for the tribes. We’re a voice for them.” (Keith’s last name means “man with a loud voice.”) “It really fits!” he laughs.

Photo by Allison Jarrell

Photo by Allison Jarrell

St. Ignace is also home to one of the oldest archaeological sites in the country, located at the museum grounds. After Father Marquette and the Huron Indians landed on the beach in birch bark canoes in 1671, the Hurons established a village similar to the ones they had built for centuries in lower Ontario, their homeland. (The Hurons fled Ontario to escape the Iroquois onslaught.) The village in St. Ignace consisted of 60- to 70-foot multiple-family longhouses. These permanent structures could house four to six families and were constructed of poles covered with bark.

As we stand in front of a longhouse that sits on this historic site, Keith reflects on the town’s anniversary.

“For me, the 350th anniversary is a celebration of who we were and where we’re at,” he says. “What we have to do is learn where we’ve been, and follow our teachings and our people. Learn from our past.”

Museum of Ojibwa Culture
500 N. State St. / 906.643.9161 / Admission by Donation
Tip: Be sure to check out the museum’s gift shop, featuring authentic Native American-made items such as dream catchers, jewelry and artwork.

Did You Know? The Straits of Mackinac were made a State Bottomland Preserve in 1983 to protect shipwrecks as an historical resource. Commercial vessels—from Native American and French canoes to modern ore carriers—have sailed these waters for centuries. Artifacts discarded from these canoes, schooners and steamboats are strewn across the bottomlands of East Moran Bay in St. Ignace. Today, skin and scuba divers can discover anchors, tools, bottles, machinery and other items. Strict laws forbid people from removing these artifacts so they will continue to intrigue for generations.

Judy Gross / Volunteer at St. Ignace Marina 

When Judy Gross moved to St. Ignace in 2005 she didn’t know a single person in town. She figured she’d sit in her front yard with her dog and a good book. Her prediction was partly true, she would spend a lot of time with a good book—but she’d be helping to write it.

Her first stop in town—after she got her utilities turned on—was the library, because she’s always had a library card wherever she’s lived. A year went by and she saw an ad in the newspaper about a library exhibit showcasing historical photos of the city. “Well, you don’t need to ask me to do that twice,” Judy laughs. “I zipped my little self right up there and started looking at pictures and pretty soon I was a part of the book staff. I don’t really know how it happened.”

Photo by St. Ignace Visitors Bureau

The St. Ignace Public Library was working with Arcadia Publishing to produce a book about the city for the “Images of America” series, gathering photos from area residents and researching local history archives. “Images of America” books are written by local experts and include community stories and images to tell a place’s story. There are books about towns, events and companies across the U.S. (You may also be interested in the books on the Mackinac Bridge and St. Ignace Car Culture.)

“At that time I had my dog, and we used to walk a lot,” Judy says. “We would stay in the downtown area because it’s pretty well lit. Some of those stores are in the same buildings that were built in the late 1800s. If Mrs. Chambers had popped out of one with her little market basket, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all. It got to the point where it was my life for a while because we were on a deadline.” (The Chambers family settled in St. Ignace around 1870. The sons—John Jr., Patrick and Michael—opened a general store, built the first dock and owned several real estate holdings in the city.)

Judy can point out all of the buildings from that time period, and it’s a safe bet to assume she knows the answer to just about any question related to the city’s history, from early settlements to fishing, the lumber industry, railroads, the car ferry and the Mackinac Bridge. We suggest getting a copy of the book. Or, if you’re on the Historic Walking Tour, pop into the St. Ignace Marina office, where Judy volunteers, and ask if she’s around.

Check out a copy of “Images of America: St. Ignace” at the public library, or buy a copy online at The library committee who helped write the book also includes Ryan Schlehuber, Ollie Boynton, Linda Monville, John Monville, Hart Plumstead, Margaret Peacock, Cindy Patten and Judy Gross. 

Fun Fact: The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island was built with lumber milled in St. Ignace—it had to be hauled over the ice by horse and sleigh during the winter of 1886-87.

Photo by St. Ignace Visitors Bureau

Photo by St. Ignace Visitors Bureau

Ed Reavie / Founder of the St. Ignace Car Show

​​It’s impossible to talk about the history of St. Ignace without hearing about the town’s deeply rooted car culture and the man who brought the annual car show to town—Ed Reavie.

Ed’s love for cars goes all the way back to sitting on the fender of a 1940’s Chevrolet sedan when he was just four months old. (Almost every other photo taken of Ed from that point on showed him on, in or near a vehicle.) At 8:30 a.m. on his 16th birthday, he was first in line at the Mackinac County Courthouse to get his driver’s license and didn’t waste any time test driving his first car—a red 1953 Ford convertible. The rest, as they say, is history.

A local St. Ignace banker and lifelong gearhead, Ed’s passion for car culture would eventually translate into creating St. Ignace’s first car show in 1976. The year prior, city leaders were preparing for a bicentennial celebration and took Ed up on his offer to head up a one-time car show. Car owners were offered free entry, Mackinac Bridge fare and gas money (up to $5), resulting in 132 cars showing up for the inaugural event on a downtown ferry dock. Winners were chosen in five categories: antique, classic, special interest, people’s choice and longest distance driven. It’s estimated that more than 5,500 people swarmed the small U.P. town.

Photo by Allison Jarrell

Ed and the show organizers were amazed by the positive response and thought—well, why not try it again next year? Forty-five years later, the St. Ignace Car Show is still a staple in the car world. Each year, Ed has worked tirelessly to add new features, from star-studded performances to celebrity guests.

“It’s never going to end,” Ed says of the show, with a grin. “They get greater, and the cars get better. It’s phenomenal.”

With the event canceled last summer due to the pandemic, the car show returned triumphantly this year with its signature downtown show and a new series of eastern U.P. car cruises. Ed says even the torrential rain that came in the last weekend in June didn’t stop folks from driving up and sharing their love of cars.

So, how exactly did the St. Ignace car show keep its engine revved over the years? Perhaps Judy Gross and Eileen Evers said it best in the forward to Ed’s book, “Images of America: St. Ignace Car Culture:”

“It goes on because Ed’s car show formula is a natural; he runs the show the way he runs his life—with integrity … Those who know him declare that he is ‘just the right guy’ to run this stellar show.”

Ed literally wrote the book on St. Ignace’s car culture. Check out a copy of “Images of America: St. Ignace Car Culture” at the public library, or buy a copy online at

Photo by St. Ignace Visitors Bureau

Photo by St. Ignace Visitors Bureau

Mike Lilliquist / Manager of St. Ignace Welcome Center & Entrepreneur 

Mike Lilliquist has worked at the St. Ignace Welcome Center for 30 years—he knows the city and the surrounding areas like the back of his hand. But he’s got something else up his sleeve, too. For the last 11 years, Mike has been working to transform his late grandfather’s Packard and Studebaker dealership, the Gateway City Garage, into a music venue, restaurant and bar.

Mike and his grandfather, Charles Mulcrone, share a special trait—they’re both visionaries who love their city. Charles served as mayor in the early 1930s, drawing the largest vote in the city’s history at the time. The St. Ignace Enterprise wrote, “his soul is wrapped up in the town’s welfare …”

The same could be said of Mike. Within 30 minutes of meeting him, he’s sharing ideas about trolleys and ferry passes and the story of the time he got a lighthouse—yes, that 52-foot Wawatam Lighthouse—for free. He’s a people person and a forward thinker.

Photo by Allison Jarrell

Mike offers to take us on a tour of the massive garage at the corner of State and McCann streets saying, “You have to have an imagination,” as we head through the doors. He’s not wrong—there’s a lot of work to finish still. But you can see the possibilities: 10-foot windows that will overlook the lighthouse and lake, a large stage set in the corner, spaces for a kitchen and banquet room, an outdoor beer garden, cornhole tournaments in the winter, car and ferry memorabilia (at one point, the building was a warehouse for the state’s car ferries before the Mackinac Bridge was built), an area for art and educational displays near the entryway (Mike has already chatted with folks at the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum of Michigan Tech and Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum).

The potential is limitless, and Mike’s the man to make it happen.

This summer, swing by the garage parking lot and grab a bite from the food truck out front. The menu includes smash burgers and Plath brats and hot dogs. Watch for jambalaya and gumbo in the fall. Snag a seat at the picnic tables overlooking the water and soak it all in. 

Photo by Allison Jarrell

Photo by Allison Jarrell

350th Celebration of St. Ignace – Event Schedule


  • Farmer’s Market & Craft Fair (St. Ignace Marina) // 4–7 p.m.
  • Native Workshops & Teachings (Museum of Ojibwa Culture)
    • Corn Husk Doll Workshop // 1–3 p.m.
    • Dreamcatcher Workshop // 3–5 p.m.
  • Music By The Bay (American Legion Park) // 7–8:30 p.m.
  • Outdoor Concert with Cheap Trick and Goo Goo Dolls – Kewadin Casino


  • Native Workshops & Teachings (Museum of Ojibwa Culture)
    • Storytelling & Hand Drumming // 1–3 p.m.
    • Birch Bark Cutouts and introduction to Lois Beardslee’s new book, “Words of Thunder” // 1–4 p.m.
    • Bead Loom Bracelet Workshop // 3–5p.m.
  • Michilimackinac Historical Society Genealogy Tent (Straits Cultural Center) // 12– 4 p.m.
  • Opening Ceremony including Birthday Cake, Wawatam Thimbleberry Wheat Introduction and Miss 350th / Junior Miss 350th announcement (Coast Guard Park) // 5:30 p.m.
  • Cornhole Tournament, Live Music, Beer Tent & Food Truck (Coast Guard Park) // 6–9 p.m.
  • Kids’ Games (Coast Guard Park) // 5–9 p.m.
  • Night at the Museum of Ojibwa Culture // 7–8:30 p.m.
  • Cemetery Tour // 1 hour curator-led walking tour // Visit for more information and to reserve a spot


  • Lumber Jack Shows (Little Bear East Arena)
    • First Show // 12 p.m.
    • Second Show // 3 p.m.
  • Native Workshops & Teachings (Museum of Ojibwa Culture)
    • Medicine Pouch Workshop and Nature-Inspired Art Painting Workshop for Youth // 1–3 p.m.
    • Fishing Demonstrations (Favorite Dock) // 1–3 p.m.
  • GRAND PARADE (Downtown St. Ignace) // 4 p.m.
  • Beach Bash & Boat Party, including Live Music, Kids’ Fun, Food Truck & Fr. Marquette and Louis Jolliet portrayals (American Legion Park) // 6 p.m.
  • Cemetery Tour // 1 hour curator-led walking tour // Visit for more information and to reserve a spot
  • FIREWORKS at Dusk


  • Bark in the Park (American Legion Park) // 11 a.m.–12 p.m.
  • Native Workshops & Teachings (Museum of Ojibwa Culture)
    • Hand Drum Making Workshop // 1–3 p.m.
    • Porcupine Quill Work Demonstration Workshop // 3–5 p.m.
  • Kayak Races // Visit for more information and to sign up
  • Monster Mural, Kids’ Fun & Food Truck (American Legion Park) // 12–8 p.m.
  • La Compagnie Musical Troupe “Meet & Greet” (American Legion Park) // 1–3 p.m.
  • Pasty Competition (American Legion Park) // 2 p.m.
  • Beach Bash & Boat Party, including Live Music, Kids’ Fun, Food Truck (American Legion Park // 4–7 p.m.
  • La Compagnie Musical Troupe Performance (American Legion Park) // 7 p.m.
  • Movies by the Bay at Dusk (American Legion Park)

Photo(s) by St. Ignace Visitors Bureau