RENE ROBERT CAVELIER, the Sieur de La Salle, was the chief French pilgrim and adventurer in the seventeenth century who explored the Great Lakes and valley of the Mississippi, and secured for his country the vast empire of Louisiana, stretching from Canada to the Gulf. His explorations were made in 1669 and again in 1678, and like all the discoverers of that early time he was hunting for the water way thought to lead to the South Sea and pro-vide a route to China. The historian Parkman describes La Salle as one of the most remarkable explorers whose names live in history; the hero of a fixed idea and determined purpose; an untiring pilgrim pushing onward towards the goal he was never to attain; the pioneer who guided America to the possession of her richest heritage. Throughout the northwest his memory is preserved in the names of rivers, towns, and otherwise, and his maps and narratives gave the earliest geography of the Lakes and the vast and prolific region obtained from France in the Louisiana cession.
The Great Lakes on the northern border of the United States are the largest bodies of fresh water on the globe. They carry an enormous commerce, nearly a hundred thousand men being employed by the fleet of lake vessels, which approximates two millions tonnage. At the head of Lake Erie the waters of Detroit River pour in, draining the upper lakes, this stream, about twenty-five miles long, flowing from Lake St. Clair and broadening from a half mile to four miles width at its mouth. Lake St. Clair is elevated five hundred and thirty feet, but is small, being about twenty-five miles in diameter, and shallow, only about twenty feet deep. The navigation of its shallows is intricate, and is aided by a long canal through the shoals at the upper end, where the St. Clair River discharges, a strait about forty miles long, flowing south from Lake Huron. This great lake is at five hundred and eighty feet elevation, and in places seventeen hundred feet deep, covering twenty-four thousand square miles, and containing many islands. At its northern end, Lakes Superior and Michigan join it by various straits and water ways beyond Mackinac Island. Westward of Lakes Ontario and Erie, and between them and Lake Huron, a long peninsula of the Dominion of Canada projects southward into the United States, terminating opposite Detroit. Similarly, to the westward of Lake Huron, and between it and Lake Michigan, the State of Michigan has its lower peninsula projecting upward to Canada. The Canadian projection, which is part of Ontario Province, is unfortunately located, being almost surrounded by these expansive lakes, having bleak, cold winds sweeping across them and seriously impeding its agriculture. The surface has little charm of scenery and the population is sparse. The trunk railways, however, find this an almost direct route from Western New York to Detroit and Chicago, and various roads traverse it, coming out on the Detroit River and the swift-flowing St. Clair River, which are crossed both by car-ferry and tunnel. At the outlet of Lake Huron, St. Clair River is less than a thousand feet wide between Point Edward and Fort Gratiot, and here and at Ports Sarnia and Huron the low and level shores are lined with docks, elevators and other accessories of commerce. This river brings vast amounts of sand down out of Lake Huron with its swift current, which are deposited on the St. Clair Flats beyond its mouth, keeping that lake shallow, and requiring the long ship canal to maintain navigation. Below Lake St. Clair, the wider Detroit River presents many fine bits of scenery, while the city of Detroit spreads for several miles along the northwestern bank, and has Windsor opposite, on the Canadian shore. Pretty islands dot the broadening stream below Detroit, and the varying width, with the bluffs on the Canadian side, and the meadows, fields and forests of Michigan, give lovely views.