Cruising Along on a Walking History Tour – 8/16/2022

By the end of the season Mackinac Island will have hosted 80 cruise ships into her harbor, and the Viking Octantis is the largest of the group. At 665-feet, the Octantis can carry 378 passengers, and when it moors just offshore, those passengers are offered a variety of shore tours – carriage, kayak, biking and walking.

With the Mackinac Island Public School in the foreground, the Octantis is a truly impressive ship.

As you might guess, 90% of the cruise passengers opt for the Carriage Tour as their excursion choice, but one day last week I showed up on the dock along with 20 cruisers to shadow Lisa Brisson’s walking history tour. And oh my gosh I’m so glad I decided to trail along!

Lisa Craig Brisson lives on Mackinac Island in the summer and in Cheboygan, Michigan during the winter – and shares her life with her husband (Steve, who is the Director of Mackinac State Historic Parks), three adult children, and a dog. She holds undergraduate degrees in history and social studies-secondary education and a master’s degree in history museum studies. Lisa has worked at historic sites all over the country, including Mackinac Island. Some of her favorite former projects include operating a historic walking tour business on Mackinac Island and helping update the Mackinac Island Carriage Tour experience. Lisa has served as the Executive Director for the Michigan Museums Association for ten years, which gives her the opportunity to work with museums throughout the state. Raised by a history-loving father and always liking social studies in high school, she choose history as her college major. But Lisa says, “I don’t think I knew that I really loved history until I got a summer job in Fort Snelling In St. Paul. Before that I don’t think I realized you could have a job “doing” history, not just teaching or studying it.”

So, as you can see, this tour group was more than fortunate to have chosen to be part of this group!

Because of its size the Octantis moors offshore, and passengers are brought to the island on its tender boat.
Each participant wears earphones and Lisa’s voice can be heard even if you happen to be in the back of the group. The tour began in Windermere Park, where Lisa talked about the importance of the Anishinaabe people, who were the first inhabitants of the island and whose descendants still reside on Mackinac.
From there we walked up French Lane and stopped on Market Street, where Lisa spoke about the Biddle House and other historic sites in the downtown area. These included the blacksmith shop and the Stuart House Museum, where John Jacob Astor once operated the American Fur Company.
On the way to Veterans Memorial Park we learned about the island’s car ban, and at the park Lisa discussed the island veterans whose memories the park celebrates.
From under the shade of a tree in Marquette Park, and standing in the shadow of Fort Mackinac, we learned about the fur trader Alexis St. Martin, who in 1822 was accidently shot in the stomach while conducting business within the American Fur Company. The treatment of that wound by Dr William Beaumont, who was stationed at Fort Mackinac, saved St. Martin’s life but left a permanent hole in his stomach that never completely healed. This left a pathway for Dr. Beaumont into the science of the digestive system.
The tour continued east along Main Street, and Lisa chatted about the building of Grand Hotel and the impact it made on the island’s rise in tourism. She explained the importance of all the island seasonal workers, both American and international, who work so hard all summer to keep island businesses running and island visitors happy. At Harbour View Inn she discussed the original owner of the home, Madame La Framboise, a half French, half Native American widow who went on to become one of Mackinac Island’s most successful entrepreneurs and philanthropists.
After a short rest break at Mission Point Resort, we learned about the resort’s history, including the Moral Re-Armament Movement, Mackinac College, and the production of the movie Somewhere in Time, much of which was filmed on the Mission Point sound stage.
After a hike up Mission Hill, the group took photos of their ship from the East Bluff and admired all the beautiful cottages – and their gardens!
The tour ended with a walk down the steps from the East Bluff to Marquette Park . . .
. . . where, after a few closing remarks, Lisa called for questions and then guided the group to a downtown intersection where there were fudge shops on each corner!

The 2-hour tour was a huge success with the group, and Lisa received many compliments on her knowledge and presentation of island history. Please know that I haven’t even covered 1/10th of what was shared today. What a great way to spend a couple of hours on our beautiful island!

A huge thank you to Lisa (pictured above) and Viking Cruises for letting me tag along on this tour. Lisa made the history of the island come alive for everyone!