Marquette’s First Founder’s Day

all right's reserved, Kim Nixon

Owner/builder of the boat is Mike Potts–

all right's reserved, Kim Nixon

Photos from Marquette’s first Founder’s Day event. Near Gaines Rock, Founder’s Landing, Marquette MI.

Press Release
(release written by Frida Waara)

Founders Day, Monday, May 18

For 55 years our Great Lakes State has been celebrating Michigan Week. This year the annual tribute to Michigan’s rich heritage will begin with a new event, Founders Day, set for dawn on Monday, May 18, at Founders Landing in Marquette.

“We know it’s early,” says Jerry Irby with a grin, “but we’re hoping the community will come and help us celebrate this inaugural Founders Day.”

Plans have happened quickly. While researching Marquette history, particularly the lower harbor and Founders Landing, Joe Constance, a partner with the Landing Development Group, ran across an address Peter White gave to Marquette’s YMCA in 1889. “On May 18, 1849, Peter White and Robert Graveraet first arrived in what would become Marquette,” says Constance. “Reading about their arrival at sunrise and meeting with Chief Kawbawgam, I started thinking about what that friendship meant for our community,” adds Constance. “The 160th anniversary of that date and event in our city’s history needs to be recognized.”  

As former mayor, Irby agrees. “Since 2004, when the city purchased Founders Landing, I’ve been dreaming of an event like this to honor our roots.” Irby adds, “And frankly, there’s no better time than now, and in this economy, to pay tribute to their pioneering spirit, optimism, resilience and the hospitality shown by Chief Charley Kawbawgam and his wife Charlotte.”

To establish Founders Day as May 18, Irby secured a proclamation from Lansing signed by Governor Jennifer Granholm, Senator Mike Prusi and Representative Steve Lindberg.  It was adopted by the Marquette City Commission at the Monday, May 11, meeting.

According to White’s story, the party expected the trip to take three hours, but,  “the seven oarsmen were pulling with a will-long strong, deep, regular strokes, that, made the boat show what the sailors call a bore in her teeth for these boys had been told that morning when breaking camp at 4 o’clock at Shot Point, that their destination was in sigh, and if they did as well as they sometimes did that a landing would be made inside of two hours, that the long trip–nine days of coasting would be ended, and the new Eldorado would be reached–and it was accomplished.”

“Keeping true to history, we’re beginning this re-enactment at dawn next Monday,” says Irby adding with a grin, “And it’s amazing the people who have volunteered their boat, to row, to be Peter White, Robert Graveraet and Chief Kawbawgam.”

“We know by 1849 many people had already established a home in what would become Marquette, including the native Ojibwa,” says Frida Waara, who has been helping Irby coordinate the celebration. “That’s why this re-enactment will begin with a Native American ceremony led by Glen Bressette who has agreed to portray Chief Kawbawgam.”

all right's reserved, Kim Nixon

“Marquette’s reputation as a hospitable community really started with the Chief and his wife Charlotte who invited those early morning travelers into their wigwam for breakfast,” says Irby. “As events for Founders Day evolve, we hope to include more of that history. We’re even looking for a team to build a Mackinaw boat.”

Waara shares Irby’s ideas for the future, “I was around for the start of the U.P. 200, and the energy coming together for Founders Day feels the same way.” 

all right's reserved, Kim Nixon

(For more photos visit Kim Nixon’s Flickr Set on Founder’s).


About kimnixon

Upper Peninsula Michigan Artist and Writer

Posted on May 18, 2009, in Events, Magic Lands, Michigan, Photography, Spiritual, Water Worlds. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Courtney Russell


    My name is Courtney Russell and I am currently a 5th year student here at NMU. I am working on an Interpretive Sign for my RE 382 Interpretation class and came across your photo of this boat. I am making my sign about Chief Kawbawgam and Peter White and was wondering if it would be alright if I borrowed your photo for the project.

    The sign will not be public or posted anywhere besides to my Professor. I could even send you a copy if you would like.

    Please let me know either way. It’s a beautiful photo.

    Thank you,

    Courtney Russell

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