Mackinac Island In Winter

Patrick SMFI
Human Resource Manager – Patrick Conlon

Today’s guest blogger is Patrick Conlon, Human Resource Manager at Grand Hotel. During the week Patrick spends his time on Mackinac Island, occasionally commuting to the mainland for meetings and employee recruitment. This is Patrick’s story of what is going on during the mild winter we are having on the island.


Snowmobiles SQ
Morning Snowmobile Parking

“Most people never get to experience Mackinac Island in the winter.  The peaceful summer clip-clop of horse hooves on pavement has been replaced by the sound of snowmobiles that the islanders use for daily winter transportation.  Up until last week, Arnold Line’s “Huron” was the main source of winter transportation to and from the island.  The mild temperatures this winter allowed for the boat to run nearly a month longer than the previous year.  While its steel hull allowed for it to break through moderate amounts of ice, current conditions have forced all boats to end service until the spring thaw.  To ensure that the new Cupola Suites are completed on time, many construction workers involved with this Grand Hotel project have recently moved over to the island now that the boats have stopped running.

Mackinac from the air
Mackinac Island from the Air

Until a solid “ice bridge” forms between the island and St. Ignace for snowmobilers to use (some years this does not happen at all), the only transportation for people and freight is via airplane.  This flight is roughly 5 minutes long from St. Ignace, and the views of the frozen Straits are spectacular on a clear day.  Cawthorne’s Village Inn, a Grand Hotel restaurant that remains open 11 months of the year, has been utilizing the air service to have its fresh produce flown in four days each week.

round island light
Round Island Lighthouse

Whereas last winter was mainly comprised of sub-zero temperatures and blowing snow, this mild winter has allowed me to capture some incredible sunsets from outside of Grand Hotel, British Landing, and other areas along the shore.  The range of colors across the sky has been nothing short of breathtaking, and I hope that Grand Hotel Facebook and Instagram followers have enjoyed seeing them and getting a feel for what the island looks like in the winter.”

Below are a few unfiltered photos taken by Patrick this winter.


Legendary Contractor an Example of Professionalism

Charles W. CaskeyToday’s blog is by Steve Maxwell.  Steve lives on Manitoulin Island, Ontario and visits Mackinac with his wife and family whenever he can. Visit him online at

Some contractors rightfully get a bad reputation because they take longer than promised to complete their projects, and they charge more than they say they will, but it doesn’t have to be this way. And to prove the point, I want you to meet a remarkable contractor from yesteryear named Charles Caskey.  Until the fall of 1886,35 year-old Caskey had only built cottages. But that didn’t stop him from bidding on construction of a 210-room, 625-foot for summer tourists. To make the challenge of this project steeper, the building site was on a small rural islandcalled Mackinac, 7 miles from the shore of a remote part of the northern Great Lakes. Then there was the building schedule. This new hotel had to be open and ready to accept guests by the summer of 1887, less than a year away. It absolutely had to be done because rooms had already been sold.

Caskey closed his cottage-building business for a year, he borrowed huge amounts of money, made timeline promises to wealthy financial barons, and assembled a crew of 600 men to live in a tent village set up in the snows and mud of Mackinac Island on March 1887. Similar monster projects around the northeast had depleted the labour supply to the point where Caskey had to pay double wages to get the workforce he needed. Lumber was sledded to the island across the ice with horses day and night over the winter of 1886/87, until the pile was large enough to see from the mainland. Locals called the project “Caskey’s Folly”.

When construction began in March 1887, three shifts of tradesmen would eventually be pressed into service, working around the clock by lantern and candlelight. But before that even began to happen, labour unrest flared. Troublemakers learned about the tight building schedule, so they demanded triple wages. “If we don’t get them, we don’t work and you go down.” Caskey stood his ground: “Double wages is what we agreed on, and double wages is what you get. And if you don’t like it, you can leave the camp and make your own way back to the mainland. You’re not eating any of my food, you’re not sleeping in any of my tents and you’re not leaving on any of my boats if you quit. The next public boat doesn’t get here for three weeks.” After that bit of head butting, the men got down to what must have been an awesome work pace. The most amazing part of Caskey as contractor is not just that he pulled off the job with a crew living and working under conditions primitive enough that modern labour inspectors would shut the site down today. It’s not even that all the work happened without electricity, power tools, compressed air or an army of sub-trades ready to swoop in with specialized gear. The truly stunning thing is that the place actually did get done at all.

Lawn Games 1890

The first rich and privileged hotel guests stepped off the luxury steam liner that tied up on Mackinac Island, they walked into the lobby of the hotel and checked in on July 10, 1887. Only 93 days earlier the place was nothing more than a mud hole next to a towering pile of white pine lumber. Similar hotels took nearly a year to build at the time. The hotel Caskey built is still in business today, it’s an awesome place and considered one of the top 25 hotels in the world – none of which would have happened if it weren’t for one spunky 35 year old contractor who kept to his schedule, his budget and his word. It’s the way good contractors do things and you can expect the same today from real pros.

Winter Construction Update

Cupola Suites View From Lake Huron
Cupola Suites View From Lake Huron

The temperatures have been quite cold, and the snow is beginning to build, but that has not stopped any of our winter construction projects from moving forward.

Not only are crews working on the new Cupola Suites, but they are also building a stone wall behind the fountain in the Tea Garden.  The wall will become home to the flower beds that previously ran alongside the fountain.  Giving them a beautiful raised position beside and behind the fountain, while adding a new look to the Tea Garden.

Stone Wall Flower Beds
Stone Wall Flower Beds

Construction of the Cupola Suites is progressing well, with four dormers already enclosed and the others soon to be.


Looking at the hotel from Lake Huron you can see how the dormers above the fourth floor will bring the hotel back to the look it had many years ago.