One Billion Years Ago


Over a billion years ago, a large plume of magma crept into a fissure splitting the middle of what is now known as North America. Titanic lava flows stretched 2000 kilometers from modern day Kansas northward all the way to the area occupied today by Lake Superior. While the lava slowly cooled and hardened, the North American Continental Plate collided with other plates and squeezed the lava flow from its sides. This pressure crinkled the lava flow downward in its middle and pushed it upward on its edges into the shape of a U. As the U was pushed relentlessly from the side, its edges began to fracture into overlapping ridges that are still visible today on Isle Royale on to the north and on the Keweenaw Peninsula to the south.

Subsequent volcanic activity eventually filled the cracks between the ridges with mineral deposits containing metals such as copper, while the tops of the cracks were capped with sediments which eventually turned into rock. As the earth's climate has changed in the more recent past, successive waves of glaciers have moved down from the north, scouring away the soft sedimentary rocks and compressing the remaining hard volcanic rock with the weight of their ice.
Ten Thousand Years Ago


The weight of the ice that still remained to the north of what was to become the Upper Great Lakes tilted the land downward, nearly draining the upper Great Lakes. Hardwood forests filled the warm basins for hundreds of years until the ice no longer compressed the Northern Third of the Continent, and lake levels rose anew as their northern outlets were once again blocked.

The Great Lakes basin filled with cool water, and the warm hardwood forests now associated with the Ohio River Valley gave way to the boreal forests seen today, forcing the people, plants, and animals that had colonized the tundra to adapt again. As woodland peoples converted from hunting and gathering to fishing and farming, they began to rely on water transportation and began to make visits to Isle Royale to collect copper for use in tools, decoration, and for trade with cultures living to the south. The fortunes of the First Nations living near Lake Superior have been hard to reconstruct, but their way of life has thought to have remained unchanged until European contact came from French explorers from the south and French traders from the east.
Three Hundred Years Ago


With the advent of European fur traders, power balances between the First Nations rapidly shifted. The Ojibway consolidated their westward expansion, displacing other nations living around Lake Superior, such as the Cree, the Lakota, the Huron, and the Ottawa. The short lived hegemony of the French and Ojibway passed quickly to the British with The Royal Proclamation of 1763 made at the end of The Seven Years War. The British government's surrogates, The Hudson's Bay Company, were in turn quickly displaced by The American Fur Company with the passage of The Northwest Ordinance following the resolution of the British North American Colonial wars with colonists. A snapshot of the European fur trade is on display for ferry passengers departing from Grand Portage, Minnesota, at Grand Portage National Monument.

As the world fur market collapsed in the early 1800's, John Jacob Astor and his American Fur Company began to try other ways of making money from their holdings in the area. Several geological surveys were dispatched to catalog the mineral wealth of Isle Royale, along with a few ill-fated fishing operations. After the subjugation of the Ojibway/Chippewa/Anishinabeg, and the survey of Douglass Houghton, a mining boom enveloped the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan which eventually found its way to Isle Royale. Three periods of mining operations spanned the 1800's, with none of the 18 separate ventures taking significant quantities of ore, outside of the Siskowit Mining Company which took 95 tons of refined copper ore in a six year period starting in 1849.

Although Isle Royale is often touted as an "Island Wilderness" by concerns promoting tourism and nostalgia, it was actually nearly completely cleared and settled by European Immigrants, resulting in the elimination of over half of the island's original plant and animal species (such as Woodland Caribou). The parts of the Island not settled by miners were inhabited by a growing number of people attracted to the thick banks of fish inhabiting the coves and bays surrounding the island. For the next century, several families made a seasonal living by Commercial Fishing until the last of the fishing families were forced out of business by Federal and State Governments at the end of the 1980's.
One Hundred Years Ago


As the arc of European resource exploitation passed from furs to mining to fishing, Isle Royale began to be noticed for its cool summers, clean air, and scenic beauty. With the construction of lighthouses at Isle Royale, Passage Island, Rock of Ages, and Rock Harbor, navigation became slightly less dangerous, and ship service began to travel from places such as Port Arthur (Thunder Bay) and Duluth to Rock Harbor, Washington Harbor, and Tobin's (sic) Harbor. Fish, consumer goods, and tourists were regularly transported through the fog banks and storms of Lake Superior. The many mishaps eventually took their toll on commercial aspirations, and contributed to the increasing isolation of the island, along with the decline of fish stocks due to overfishing and introduced species. While fishing, tourism, and shipping still prospered in the 1920's, a Detroit News editor, Albert Stoll, Jr., and others, began a movement calling for the creation of Isle Royale National Park. Roughly half of the main island's area was quickly pledged to the Park Service, but fishing families and logging and mining interests had yet to be convinced of the value of creating a National Park.

Herbert Hoover signed legislation calling for the creation of a National Park at the start of the Great Depression, and FDR created the Civilian Conservation Corps, with camps established at what is now called Daisy Farm, Windigo, and Siskiwit Bay. The projects had varying degrees of success, ranging from failed moose transplantation, to fire fighting (thought to have been started by CCC workers), to construction of Park Headquarters on Mott Island. Dedication ceremonies were postponed repeatedly due to delays in land purchases, disputed fishing rights, and World War II. The park was finally formally dedicated 15 years after the original legislation calling for its creation on August 27, 1946.