U.P. history varied and interesting

NMU hosts 18th annual Sonderegger Symposium

MARQUETTE — Topics ranging from Great Lakes fisheries, World War I’s effects in the Lake Superior Basin, and the epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha” were among those discussed at Friday’s Sonderegger Symposium at the Whitman Hall commons at Northern Michigan University.

The Center for Upper Peninsula Studies presented the 18th annual event, which is supported financially by the Sonderegger family.

For nearly two decades, the symposium has celebrated the history, culture and life of the U.P.

Robert Winn, NMU dean of Arts and Sciences, believes the event is important to understanding the region.

“I think keeping the history of the U.P. alive is really important, not only for this generation but for succeeding generations,” Winn said.

Robert Archibald of the NMU Department of History talked about “Fish Farms: Environmental Outline History of the Upper Great Lakes’ Fisheries.”

He addressed the management of Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron.

“All three lakes surrounding the Upper Peninsula are managed by stocking, efforts to limit and control invasive species, regulation of fishing, habitat improvements, and efforts at pollution control,” Archibald said.

From that sense, he said, came the title of his program.

“The Great Lakes have become the work of humans, so to the extent that the fisheries are healthy, or to the extent that the fisheries are damaged, it’s a result now of largely human activities that have resulted in the introduction of foreign materials into the lakes themselves,” Archibald said.

Historical activities such as pollution and overfishing have affected the Great Lakes, he noted, but the building of the Erie Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the release of ships’ ballast water from the ocean, have resulted in invasive species getting into the Great Lakes and negatively affecting the ecosystem as they compete for food, interfering with spawning and altering the food chain.

Sea lampreys, round gobies, zebra mussels and others are just some of the invaders.

“They came from all over the globe,” Archibald said. “Quagga mussels, for instance, are native to the watersheds in the Ukraine, so somehow they made their way in ballast water all the way into the Great Lakes.”

He expressed a fatalistic but realistic attitude toward sea lampreys in the Great Lakes, even though physical barriers, traps and lampricides have been used to control them.

“There’s no possibility of elimination of sea lamprey,” Archibald said. “All you can do with sea lamprey is attempt to control them. Those of you who live in Marquette, take a trip to Thill’s. Ask the guy behind the counter how many fish they bring in that show signs of scars from lamprey — and it’s a huge number of fish that are being attacked by sea lamprey in Lake Superior.”

Marquette Maritime Museum President Fred Stonehouse talked about “Sailing into Legend — the Most Baffling Shipwreck(s) in the Great Lakes!”

His focus was the Lake Superior shipwreck of two French minesweepers, which disappeared in 1918.

The vessels were built at Fort William, located at the northwest corner of the lake.

What were French warships doing in Lake Superior anyway?

“At the height of World War I, the French Navy was desperately trying to build ships,” Stonehouse said.

Especially needed were minesweepers, and building ships on the Great Lakes was common.

However, the two ships were lost in at 1918 storm, and have never been found.

Shipwreck searches continue to this day, and the best technique people are using to find shipwrecks, Stonehouse said, is side-scan sonar. He also pointed out that searches for lost vessels are paid for through private funds.

Russ Magnaghi, NMU professor emeritus, presented an “Overview of World War I in the Lake Superior Basin.”

Even though the war wasn’t physically fought in this region, there were concerns about possible actions of residents whose heritage were the countries fighting the United States and its allies.

“What are these people going to do? What are the Croatians going to do? What are the Slovenians going to do? The Germans — Michigan had a very large German population,” Magnaghi said.

Other states had vigilante groups, as did Michigan, but its main effort went toward the creation of the Michigan Constabulary, now known as the Michigan State Police, he said.

“You could protest peacefully, and so on, as long as you didn’t violate state law,” Magnaghi said.

However, there was talk of shutting down the mines, which as a result would cripple the war industry and obviously violate state law, he said.

So, one of the first actions of the Constabulary was going to the U.P. to bring strikes under control.

Other speakers and programs on the agenda were: Camden Burd, University of Rochester and Grace Magnaghi Visiting Research Grant recipient, “In the Land of Hiawatha: Conservation and Literary Sociability in Northern Michigan”; Jim McCommons, NMU English professor and Grace Magnaghi Visiting Research Grant recipient, “The Roosevelt Libel Trial”; and James Seelye, Kent State University Department of History, “Slovenes in the U.P.”

Also, Allie Penn, Wayne State University, “Female Agitators: The Women of the 1913-14 Keweenaw Copper Strike”; Dan Truckey, Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center director, “When Chicago Attacked the Piano: NMU Myth or Reality?”; Don Balmer, independent scholar, “The Yankee: an Emigrant from Scotland”; and Mark Ruge, juris doctor and NMU alumnus, “How the Upper Peninsula and Great Lakes Shipping Transformed the North American Economy.”

For more information on the event, visit nmu.edu/upperpeninsulastudies/sonderegger-symposium.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.