Mackinaw City is a village in Emmet and Cheboygan counties of Michigan. The population is over 800 and the population surges during the summer tourist season, including an influx of tourists and seasonal workers who serve in the shops, hotels and other recreational facilities there and in the surrounding region. Mackinaw City is at the northern tip (headland) of the Michigan’s Lower Peninsula along the southern shore of the Straits of Mackinac. Across the straits lies the state’s Upper Peninsula. These two land masses are physically connected by the Mackinac Bridge, which runs from Mackinaw City north to St. Ignace. Mackinaw City is also the primary base for ferry service to Mackinac Island, located to the northeast in the straits.
Mackinaw City is the most popular tourist city in the state of Michigan and is a favorite Northern Michigan vacation destination, with visitors traveling from all over the world to stay in the quaint village. Local attractions include Fort Michilimackinac, the Mackinac Bridge, the Mackinaw Crossings shopping mall, Mill Creek, the Old Mackinac Point Light, the Historic Village, the McGulpin Point Light, and the retired US Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw.
The predominant historic tribes in this area were three Algonquian peoples, known collectively as the Council of Three Fires: Ojibwe (Chippewa), Ottawa (Odawa), and Potawatomi at the time of French contact in the 17th century. These peoples had long frequented the surrounding region, which they called Michilimackinac, to fish, hunt, trade, and worship. Mackinac Island in the straits appeared to have the shape of a turtle. The Native Americans here had a creation myth based on the sacred turtle. The Straits of Mackinac was the center of two routes vital to the fur trade: one to Montreal in the east, by way of Lake Nipissing and the Ottawa River valley; and the other to Detroit in the south via Lakes Huron and St. Clair.
The first European to pass the site of Mackinaw City was Jean Nicolet, sent out from Quebec City by Samuel Champlain in 1633 to explore and map the western Great Lakes, and to establish new contacts and trading partnerships with the Indian tribes of the region. His reports resulted in the French government providing funds to send settlers, missionaries, traders, and soldiers to the Great Lakes region. Father Jacques Marquette had established a mission on Mackinac Island in 1671.
Mackinaw City’s first European settlement came in 1715 when the French built Fort Michilimackinac. They lost it to the British during the Seven Years’ War, and the British abandoned the fort in 1783, after the American Revolutionary War resulted in independence of its Thirteen Colonies. The site of the fort in present-day Mackinaw City is a National Historic Landmark and is now preserved as an open-air historical museum.