Detroit, Cadillac, and Pontiac are so identified with automobiles that few people realize their connection with Canadian history. Detroit was founded by LaMothe Cadillac, one of Frontenac‘s officers. The name is French, meaning “on the strait.” Pontiac, of course, was the great Ottawa chief.
When Frontenac was asked to return to Canada in 1689, one of his problems was to try to control the Iroquois. They used two main routes into Canada from their territory in New York. They could cross Lake Ontario and go down the St. Lawrence River, or they could reach the Ottawa River via Lake Huron and French River (Rivière des Français). Frontenac had blocked the St. Lawrence route by building a fort at Cataraqui. The fort at Michilimackinac was supposed to guard the other route.
Cadillac had been in charge of Michilimackinac for six years, and felt that its site was awkward and out of date. He had snowshoed all the way to Montreal several times for supplies, or to attend to some business connected with the fur trade. How he would enjoy the same trip in a Cadillac today! Cadillac persuaded Frontenac that a better location would be along the strait connecting Lakes Erie and Huron.
Frontenac was impressed, but sent Cadillac to France to get the approval of Louis XIV. It wasn’t easy, because Michilimackinac was an important Jesuit mission and they did not want it weakened. Cadillac insisted that his plan would be profitable for France and block Britain from the fur trade. Finally he got his way.
On June 5, 1701, Cadillac left Quebec to found Detroit. He took a party of soldiers and workmen in twenty-five canoes, and travelled the long route via the Ottawa River, Lake Nipissing, Georgian Bay, and Lake Huron, with a stop at Michilimackinac.
There was a marked resemblance between Cadillac and D’Artagnan of the “Three Musketeers.” Both were Gascons (a region of southwestern France), fast tempered and expert swordsmen. There was nearly a mutiny on the way, with someone knocking Cadillac’s hat over his long nose. His sword was out in a flash and he turned on the 100 men, challenging them to fight!
Nobody wanted any part of it, and the journey continued. They reached Detroit on July 23, and began building the fort that has since expanded into one of the automobile centres of the world!
Do you want to read more about this? Well, I can steer you in a few directions. For instance, I recommend Canadian Museum of Civilization and Detroit Historical Society. There is also a site I just found out about, and is quite interesting, it’s the Waymarking (trust me, it’s an interesting site! After that, I suggest The Historical Marker database, and another site I just learned about, the Your Dictionary Biography, and finally Detroit History.