Harsen's Island Area
The area north of the Lake St. Clair is actually the delta of the St. Clair River flowing south continually requiring dredging in order to keep the ship channel open. Harsen's Island is the largest of the delta islands with Russel Island at the north tip (opposite Algonac) with Dickenson Island in the north west area.
Harsen's Island was named for Jacobus Harsen, a gunsmith who settled in the area in the 1770's. He, along with his brothers William and Bernard who came later, negotiated with the Chippewa and Pottawatomi natives (who rightfully owned the land) for the right to trade furs. As more white people came, many claimed the land through squatters rights forcing the natives to retreat. Concern for legality of who rightfully owns Harsen's Island leaves the area subject to speculative lands claim rights.
By the end of the War of 1812, the International boundary was set, further clouding the issue of who rightfully owns the Harsen's Island area. Both Canada and United States claimed the Harsen's Island area, virtually ignoring any claims the natives may have had for the land. Eventually a boundary committee decided the issue by awarding the Harsen's Island area to the United States.
To further exemplify the somewhat loose awarding of the area in question, arose in 1870 involving Hiram Little of Wallaceburg a Captain who was given a contract to provide cord wood and supplies to a work crew. At the time, a ship canal was being dredged through the marshy areas near Lake St. Clair. By this time shipping was increasing and the need for a deep, free flowing canal was required. During one trip to the work area, Capt. Little's ship was seized by U.S. officials who claimed he was operating illegally since he was in U.S. waters. Little protested claiming he was in Canadian water, challenging U.S. officials to prove their contention. After searching of documents, including contact with Crown in England who supplied early charts, Capt. Little was ultimately proven correct. To avoid further embarrassement, the U.S. officials simply moved the international boundary east further infriging on Canadian (and native) land. The present St. Clair River from Russel Island to Lake St. Clair has been the International boundary line between Canada and the United States ever since, although who legally should own Harsen's Island and the St. Clair delta area remains speculative in some eyes.
Chenal Ecarte (Snye River) Area
Tradition states that the body of water was so named by Sieur de la Salle, French explorer who was seeking a route west in his tiny vessel Griffon in 1679. Translated literally meaning "blank channel" La Salle reputedly sailed inland at this point but found the route not leading him to his desired destination thusly considering it a "dead or blank" channel.
Highbanks Park overlooking both the Snye and St. Clair was a popular destination for excursion vessels during the early century. Vessels such as John Lee, City of Chatham, Ossifrage, Omar D. Congar, Thousand Island Islander were often chartered to brng passengers on day trips with Highbanks Park a popular picnic area. Due to the high bluff along Highbanks, the nearby Chris Craft Corporation would use the choice camera positions to shoot photographs of the new lines of motorboats for their publicity brochures.
Gar Wood, world renowed boat racer lived in nearby Algonac, Michigan. His series of powerboats named MISS AMERICA caught world attention during the 1920's competing in Gold Cup and Harmsworth races. The stretch of the Chenal Ecarte from the St. Clair River was a favoured area by Gar Wood as it was sheltered, offering calm water and provided a straightway measured mile. In 1928, while preparing for a Harmsworth Challenge made by Betty Carstairs of England, Gar Wood, his mechanic Orlin Johnson were flying along the Snye at 105 miles per hour when their Miss America VI hit an obstruction, flew out of control and disintegrated, the prized Packhard engines plunging to the botton of the Snye. Johnson was injured seriously while Gar escaped with minor scrapes. The Harmsworth race was just two weeks away and their boat was destroyed. Remarkably, the engines were retrieved, cleaned, put in running conditions and placed in MISS AMERICA VII which was built in time for the Harmsworth Challenge which Gar Wood won. This is one of the most amazing comeback stories in sports history. The area on the mainland now populated with many residences, remained a marshy natural area until the 1950's when development was underway. During the period known as prohibition (1920's to 1933) this area, particularly the section facing the St. Clair River provided exceptional natural camouflage for rumrunners who transported illicit booze to the United States where manufacturing of alcoholic beverages was prohibited. The area know as McMillan Subdivision was actually surveyed and ready for a housing development during this same prohibition period but the plan never materialized due to the economic depression of the 1930's. A flag pole which stood until the present development materialized, was the only mark of this first plan...
By Alan Mann, based on a commentary aboard Hammond Bay Excursion boat ..Prepared by request of Reta Sands July 1996.