For those of you who grew up in the Detroit area, as I did, the name “Bob-Lo” may conjure up annual trips to the Bob-Lo Amusement Park, located on Bois Blanc Island, Ontario in the Detroit River Other than a few ruins, that version of that Bob-Lo Island now exists only in memories.
The Other “Bob-Lo”
The Bois Blanc Island I visited a week ago Friday is also known as “Bob-Lo.” This was an attempt by the original English explorers and settlers to replicate the French name for the island: “Bois Blanc,” meaning “White Woods” (referring not to birch trees, as one might think, but to basswood, another story for another book). Phonetically pronounced: “Bwa Blan, with a very nasally and abrupt “an” at the end of the second word; you’ll also occasionally hear the island called “Boys Blank” from speakers of English today.
The “Other Island” in the Straits
This Bois Blanc Island is a Michigan island, located, as is Mackinac Island, in the Straits of Mackinac (Round Island is the island in between Bois Blanc and Mackinac). Next time you cross the Mighty Mac from the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula, look to the east; the longest stretch of island you see is Bois Blanc. I’ve recently written a bit about events on Bois Blanc in this blog.
A Warm Welcome by the Bois Blanc Island Historical Society at the Coast Guard Chapel
I was on Bois Blanc Island for my fourth book event on an island (Belle Isle, Pelee Island, and Beaver Island having been the sites of earlier book events this summer). The Bois Blanc Island Historical Society turned out a wonderful audience of 39 members (on an evening with a competing island social event involving drinks, nonetheless!).
Check out the backdrop of woods in this interior shot (photo courtesy of a BBIHS member in the audience):
For such a hot night, we had a nice breeze coming through the building as the sun sank down behind the trees. Such a cool–in all senses of the word–venue! Thank you for the invitation, Betty Hutchinson, and thank you for having me, Bois Blanc Island Historical Society. Such great questions from the audience and memorable conversations afterwards!
By the time my talk was over, the questions had been answered, and the equipment was packed up, it was almost 9:00 p.m. It was only then I realized, that due to my travel schedule that day, I hadn’t had any dinner. I knew there was Hawk’s Landing General Store and Restaurant, on the other side of the ferry landing, but if it wasn’t already, I suspected it would be closed by the time I drove the five or six miles down the gravel road.
Two or three vehicles were parked in front of the tavern, a couple were sitting at a picnic table on one end of the deck, and a guy standing up at the other end was drinking from a can of beer and staring out at the fading light on the water, so I went on up and in.
It was not Taco Tuesday–it was Friday–but I knew I knew the person who immediately greeted me on the other side of the bar. But from where?
Turns out it was Sarah, “originally”(in my limited Bois Blanc experience) from Hawk’s Landing. Her “little” brother Austin–who I had the pleasure to meet the next morning–had since bought Hawk’s Landing, and she’d moved on to work at the Tavern. Sarah had waited on my traveling companion Barbara and I when we first landed on Bois Blanc in 2013. Best waitress ever, sincerely interested in her customers and very willing to answer a question or two about her island.
While we were each figuring out who the other was, hearing the commotion, out from the kitchen came Jenn. Jenn totally surprised me by knowing immediately exactly who I was. She claims she’s had my name and the name of my book written on a doily and posted somewhere all these three years. What faith! After all, the book was in the very early stages in the second month of my island research in 2013 when I’d made my last visit to the Boblo Tavern.
On this visit, once the initial excitement died down, Jenn proceeded to prepare the special of the evening for me. Then the couple from out on the deck came in–Dennis and Catherine, currently of Chicago–and asked for a recap of my book talk and over the next hour bought a book and then a few more as gifts:
As you can see, there were a lot of smiles to go around.
But my biggest smile may have come when, on one of my trips out to the car to get more books for tavern staff and customers, I got to meet Dan Reynolds. Remember the guy drinking the beer at the other end of the deck from my new Chicago friends?
When Jenn opened her copy of my book and skimmed the Bois Blanc Island chapter, she said something like “Dan made the book!” (At least I pretty sure it was Jenn who discovered this. I’d just had a drink bought for me. To which I responded I felt like some kind of minor celebrity; these moments in the Boblo Tavern may qualify as my 15 minutes of fame.) It was then pointed out to me that Dan, himself, was out on the deck, the very man I’d said “Good evening” to when I’d come up the deck stairs.
So next time I went out to my trunk for a book, I introduced myself, making a fan-fool of myself, I’m sure, and then Dan came in and we all had a drink.
The perfect ending to the story of this lovely Bois Blanc Island night–first at the Coast Guard Chapel and then at Barb’s Boblo Tavern–begins with lyrics (particularly appropriate as there was one Detroiter and a couple Chicagoans at the tavern that night) from Dan Reynolds’ song “Bible Road” (from his album This Ain’t the Mainland, 2010):
“… Heaven’s going to have to look a helluva a lot like Bob-Lo,
And if it don’t, I don’t want to go.
Not Detroit, not Chicago,
Heaven’s going to have to look a helluva a lot like Bob-Lo,
And if it don’t, I don’t want to go.”
If you like what you hear, you may want to check out Dan Reynolds’ 2013 CD, Bob-Lo Style, too.
Bois Blanc Island is certainly known by those who love her (count me in) for her “heavenly” beauty …
. . . but I’m of the belief that more than a few angels hang out there as well, in the form of islanders and the island’s “summer people.” I’m happy to have spent an evening with a number of them on my last visit over.