2011-05-14 / Top News

Fort Mackinac Opens for Season With Traditional Cannon Firing

By Karen Gould

Marie Bunker signaled the opening of Fort Mackinac for the season with the firing of the cannon Thursday, May 5. As Mackinac Island’s 61st Lilac Queen, she has carried out various duties including the Lilac Queen’s traditional duty to assist with the ceremonial opening of the fort. Pulling the cannon’s cord, along with the opportunity to serve as Lilac Queen since June 2010, are experiences she said she would never forget.

“It’s a big honor to represent your Island,” said the Mackinac Island Public School senior.

The cannon firing is one of the last duties of her reign at Lilac Queen. On June 10, at the beginning of the Lilac Festival, Miss Bunker will crown her successor. The festival runs through June 19.

In the fall, Miss Bunker will attend Central Michigan University to study biology.

Taking a break from her high school classes early Thursday morning, she stood on the upper gun platform that offers sweeping views Haldimand Bay, the marina, downtown, Round Island Lighthouse, and west to the Mackinac Bridge. Preparing the cannon, offering instructions, and standing ready to assist Miss Bunker were three historic interrupters.

Craig Wilson of Saginaw, with seven years of experience as a historic interpreter at Fort Mackinac, was joined by interrupters Niall Farley of Almont and John Fitzgerald of Grand Ledge, each with two years of experience at the fort.

Mr. Farley often gives the cannon firing demonstrations and said it is one of his favorite parts of the job.

“We make things go boom every day,” he said.

Interrupter Mr. Fitzgerald has a family history with Fort Mackinac. His grandparents, the late John and Lorabeth Fitzgerald, were East Bluff cottage owners. His parents, Ruth and the late Frank Fitzgerald, met while both worked at the fort, and an interpretive display about the soldiers who served at the fort was dedicated to his father in 2006.

“It’s definitely fun to be on the upper gun platform where a lot of historical events have happened and not only that, you can really see why there is a fort up here and a view of the town,” said Mr. Fitzgerald.

“It’s part of the heritage of Mackinac and part of the history that we have generations of staff members coming back to serve us in different capacities,” said Greg Hokans, chief of development and marketing director for Mackinac State Historic Parks. It’s “the draw of Mackinac.”

The cannon firing early Thursday morning marking the opening of the fort has become part of the history of Mackinac Island, he said.

“The things that really bring people back year in and year out is our living history program and the cannon firing is a part of that,” Mr. Hokans said. “It’s one of our biggest draws, especially in this location. The upper gun platform, overlooking the Great Lakes, and the magnificent Mackinac Bridge, the village, and the lighthouses below, it’s one of those scenes you can see over and over again and it never wears off.”

Until Friday, June 10, the fort is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last admission at 4:30 p.m. From Saturday, June 11, to Saturday, August 20, hours of operation are from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. with the last admission at 6 p.m., and from Sunday, August 21, to Sunday, October 9, hours are from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last admission of the season at 4:30 p.m.

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