A Bicycle Guide to Pelee Island

I wish I had A Bicycle Guide to Pelee Island by Ronald Tiessen before Mark and I visited the island in the summer of 2020, as we spent our time there exploring Pelee by bicycle. I saw this book at the place where we stayed, and because of COVID the island’s museum and Heritage Centre were both closed, so I couldn’t purchase it there. I had to wait until I got home to order it by mail. And I never even considered borrowing the book and taking it with us as other guests might have wanted to look through it.

The guide started with a lengthy history of the island and then Tiessen wrote about 62 destinations, yet this was not a formal cycling guide. Although each place was numbered and plotted on a centrefold map, no routes were drawn out. I would have expected there to be chapters labelled Bike Tour #1, and so on as I have seen in other cycling guides. The destination numbers, however, were confined to specific areas of the island so the single digits were located in the northeast and the twenties were in the northwest, so at least if you were reading about specific sites on successive pages you would be able to find them without having to ride all over the island.

I was confused by a story about an island murder. In 1835, 28-year-old (not yet General) Robert E. Lee, employed in the boundary survey between Ohio and Michigan, “visited the [Pelee Island] lighthouse, presumably for the vantage it offered. While entering he encountered the keeper ‘irascible and full of venom’ whom he killed in the ensuing altercation. Lee helped himself to a few glass lampshades before leaving.”. I was puzzled why this lighthouse keeper wasn’t named, since on the next page Tiessen listed all the keepers from the time the lighthouse was built until it was decommissioned in 1909. I have deduced that the keeper was either a temporary and thus unofficial lighthouse occupant, or that the story was an embellishment of Lee’s imagination.

I read the fifth edition from 2000 and since some of the sites had disappeared in the intervening ten years since it was first published, handwritten updates were inserted, such as “Removed by Government of Canada”, “Demolished in 1990’s” and “Replaced with new construction”. It has now been 23 years since this edition so I wonder what else has changed. Bill Sawchuk provided small illustrations for all 62 destinations which were all black-and-white line sketches, some of which were quite detailed.

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