Point au Pelee Island: A Historical Sketch of and an Account of the McCormick Family, who were the First White Owners of the Island

Point au Pelee Island: An Historical Sketch of and an Account of the McCormick Family, who were the First White Owners of the Island by Thaddeus Smith was originally published in 1899 and is a 1996 reprint of a 1926 edition. The front cover and the title page do not have the same subtitle. My title above is from the front cover, which I believe is more accurate than the title page (which is usually the final arbiter on what a book’s title actually is). I have found an on-line copy of the original 1899 edition and it is exactly the same, so take your pick of which subtitle you prefer.

The microscopic text was reproduced from the original layout but it must have been from the 1926 edition which had 48 pages as the formatting from the 1899 edition differs since it was printed on only 43 pages. It was packed with information among the dense text, and covered the history of the McCormick family and how they got to be known as the “owners” of the island. Both Alexander McCormick and his wife Elizabeth Turner had intimate connections with the First Nations; McCormick lived with a band of Wyandottes while he was a trader near Pittsburgh, and Turner was abducted by the same tribe while she was outside making maple syrup. The two met at a meeting of the tribes, at which time McCormick was then living with the Shawnee. They noticed each other as two Caucasians and eventually met and devised a plan to escape, yet Turner’s tribe refused to let her go. Their story sounds as if it were written for fiction and I wonder how much of it was true. As this book was originally published in 1899, it was full of terms that would now be considered derogatory, such as Indian, injun, savages and squaw. Even a commentary about the discovery of native burial mounds seemed insultingly dismissive:

“Mention may be made also of the Indian mounds that still remain on parts of the island. The Ontario Government archaeologist, Mr. David Boyle, investigated these during the past summer but found that, apart from the fact of their being Indian mounds, they are largely devoid of interest.”

With a story like that to occupy the first half of the book, everything else seemed anticlimactic. I learned about the establishment of the first vineyards and the drainage of the marshes which covered a vast area of the island. The land hollowed out to create drainage ditches was put to immediate use: it was converted into roads. At one time there were four schools and four post offices on Pelee. Smith also wrote about the establishment of a fishing club for wealthy gentlemen members in the northwest of the island. Regular transportation to and from Pelee was not yet developed so visitors had to rely on their own shipping or otherwise tried to hitch a ride. Visitors from 124 years ago looked at Pelee in the same way as those who visit the island today: to escape the bustle of mainland life. The population at the time of publication was around seven hundred, about half the number of people who live on the island during the summer today (which says nothing about the number of tourists who flock there). One remark I had read numerous times was that the demand for accommodation was always too high for the lodgings available, thus in the late nineteenth century Pelee Island was already a popular tourist destination.

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