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Compare the Thousand Islands and Mackinac Island

I enjoyed Lynn E. McElfresh’s April 2016 article, A World of Islands,  where she wrote how she was inspired as a young girl, by Mackinac Island, at age three, but has no memory of the visit. I hope this story will help Lynn to relearn what she can’t remember.

1 View from the Fort
Panoramic View of Mackinac Harbor from Fort Mackinac

Can you believe there is a lot in common between the Thousand Islands and Mackinac? Before making the comparison, there is an interesting story about how Mackinac got started, due to the US Civil War.

After a major battle on the Cumberland River, where the Confederate Army was defeated, the city of Nashville, Tennessee, fell to the Union Army. Three wealthy and prominent Nashvillian men, refused an order to take an oath of loyalty to the Union. As punishment they were taken from their families as prisoners, to Fort Mackinac, in the spring of 1862.

They stayed there for the summer, were well treated and even, at times, allowed out of the fort. Since they had caused no problems, two of the men signed the oath and were sent back to Nashville. The remaining man was moved to a prison near Sandusky, Ohio, and eventually freed as part of a prisoner exchange. None had to experience a winter on Mackinac. When the war ended, they had enjoyed life on the island so much, that some returned to Mackinac and built summer homes. To this day, several Nashville families continue to own homes on the island and spend summers there.

Mackinac is one of the important stopping places on the Great Loop, a boating adventure that circumnavigates Eastern North America by water.

To get from the Thousand Islands to Mackinac in a power boat go West to Trenton, north on the Trent-Severn Waterway to Georgian Bay, then West on the North Channel to Mackinac. It is a beautiful trip with mostly sheltered water on the way. Allow four weeks in each direction.

If you want to sail for 800 miles, go west on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, North on the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, and St. Clair River; then North West on Lake Huron and you are there. At 7-mph, good winds, and 12 hours per day underway, you can be there in 10 days. Of course you won’t see anything but open water.

How do theThousand Islands and Mackinac compare?

  • Both were developed in the late 1800s by wealthy families, from New York or Detroit and Chicago. These families all built magnificent homes on islands.
  • They have to get to their islands by water.
  • Many of the larger Thousand Islands allow cars, but Mackinac only allows horses (with a few exceptions).
  • They both have fudge shops and fast boat tours.
  • They all have summer climates that are much more pleasant than the big cities to the South.
  • All places had fancy hotels but after 1887 no hotel could best the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

The easiest way to learn more about Mackinac is through the famous 1980 movie, “Some Where in Time,” starring Christopher Reeves, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer. You can then make your own comparisons.

By Bob Duthie

Bob Duthie grew up in Toronto and graduated, in Engineering Physics, from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario in 1962.  He spent 13 years in Brockville, with GTE Automatic Electric (Canada) Ltd and 14 years with Northern Telecom, in R&D, product management, business development and general management. In 1977 he was moved to Nashville, Tennessee. In 1989 Bob founded Duthie Learning, a publishing company that today provides books, cruising guides and digital adventure programs, related to the Great Loop and RV Touring in the USA and Canada.

Bob is a writer and photographer for Heartland Boating Magazine, and a speaker at Passagemaker’s TrawlerFest. He maintains a membership in the Brockville Yacht Club and the Antique Boat Museum, in Clayton, NY.

Editor’s note:  David Duthie, wrote an article in March 2015, for TI Life, How the Thousand Islands Inspired Me to Cruise America’s Great Loop.  His story is an inspiration to others to take these special voyages.  You can read more at:  Duthie and online at

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