Some of the very first Europeans to explore the Great Lakes area of North America were French fur trappers, traders and the “voyageurs”. These were very tough men, capable of traversing the roaring rapids and stormy lakes of the far north in birch bark canoes filled to the gunwales with heavy beaver pelts. Their 18th century exploits, drinking fests, displays of courage and feats of strength are legendary. Yet, on Macanac Island in northern Lake Michigan there are beautiful old Lilac bushes whose dates of planting have been traced back to the late 18th century. They were most likely planted by the missionaries, fur trappers, traders and voyageurs of the time, well before any European women had traveled into the area.
I will always remember my visit to Fort Macanac, lingering in an ancient grove of lilacs. The deep purple color, the heady sweet fragrance and the wonder of those French-Canadian voyageurs who left their homes in France, traveled across the treacherous Atlantic, then hiked and canoed thousands of miles into the uncharted and hostile far north with only the very barest of essentials…… including their most precious lilacs. How they must have loved those flowers.