As towns go, St. Ignace is no spring chicken. Located just north of the Mackinac Bridge that connects Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas, the town was founded by Father Jacques Marquette in 1671 and named for St. Ignatius of Loyola. Rich in Native American history, St. Ignace once was a busy hub of fur trade, logging and commercial fishing.
Getting there by car requires crossing the Straits of Mackinac via the Mackinac Bridge, or "Mighty Mac," as it’s been dubbed. At five miles in length, this suspension bridge is awesome. There’s a toll of $2.50 per car to cross if you’re heading north; the return trip costs nothing.
My husband and I spent the better part of two days in St. Ignace, sightseeing and pigging out on whitefish, which is guaranteed to be on any Upper Peninsula menu.
One of our favorite restaurants is the Mackinac Grille. Located on the waterfront board walk of the downtown, the restaurant overlooks Mackinac Island and the St. Ignace Lighthouse.
We started with soup--whitefish chowder for my husband and baked potato chowder for me (both delicious). His was loaded with tomatoes and finely chopped vegetables, almost like salsa. The broth of mine was a bit thin, but it was packed with chopped bacon, shredded carrots and plenty of flavor.
Our entrees were a Mackinac omelette with mushrooms, onions, bacon and melted cheese for my husband (accompanied by fried potato cubes) and whitefish--broiled in a sandwich with Cajun spices and topped with cole slaw – for me. A yummy macaroni salad with hot peppers came with it. The fish tasted like it had been swimming minutes ago.
The prices here, by the way, are quite reasonable; our entire lunch, including two alcoholic beverages, was just 9 cents over $20.
Then we set off to find history, starting at Marquette Mission Park, where Father Marquette is buried. Next door is the Museum of Ojibwa Culture. This museum and park, operated by the city, show what life was life in the Straits of Mackinac over 300 years ago.
Then it was on to the Father Marquette National Memorial, nestled in Straits State Park. The memorial and 15-station interpretive trail interpret the period of European contact with Native American inhabitants of the Upper Great Lakes region.
By then it was late afternoon, and I wanted to try win enough money for dinner. So, we headed for the Kewadin Shores Casino. Sticking to slot machines, I hoped to at least double my $20 investment (my limit for losing).
Inside an inflatable dome-shaped building, blue-haired elderly ladies occupied every one of the nickel slot machines. It was easy to spot the "serious" players, who kept shifting their eyes to everyone else's machine to see whose was "hottest." I finally found an empty seat, but the machine was inhospitable. In less than 45 minutes, I lost the entire $20.