Skip To Nav

Site-specific menu

Share |

Public can learn about fur trade at Fort St. Joseph event

by Deanne Puca

Aug. 5, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of Fort St. Joseph archaeological open house.
Fort St. Joseph archaeological open house
KALAMAZOO--A $10,175 grant from the Michigan Humanities Council will support a free open house for the public at Western Michigan University's Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 13-14.

The event will be held on the St. Joseph River waterfront near Fort and Bond Streets in Niles, Mich., and will focus on "Trading on the Frontier at Fort St. Joseph." The project will produce an educational booklet on the fur trade and culminate with the open house. Also included will be 18th century fur-trading demonstrations, re-enactors, artifact exhibits and student archaeological digs.

The open house, now in its sixth year, has attracted thousands of visitors to see an actual archaeological dig in progress. For more information on the project and how to attend, visit or contact Kelley Walter at or (443) 226-3626.

Since 1998, WMU faculty researchers and students have been working to identify, investigate and interpret the physical remains of Fort St. Joseph, one of the most important Colonial outposts in the western Great Lakes. WMU has conducted its annual archaeological field school at the site since 2002 in partnership with the city of Niles, the Fort St. Joseph Museum and Support the Fort, a nonprofit organization focused on preserving the fort's history. The dig has been opened to the public annually during the past several years and has attracted some 7,000 visitors eager to see the site and hear the explanations and interpretation of those working there.

The Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project has netted more than 100,000 artifacts and animal bones associated with the French and English occupations along the St. Joseph River. The fort's strategic location near the St. Joseph-Kankakee river portage allowed the French (1691-1761) and later the British (1761-81) to control southern Lake Michigan.

This is the third year Fort St. Joseph received funding from the Michigan Humanities Council for its summer open house. Other sponsoring organizations include the city of Niles and Niles District Library.

WMU's 2011 grant is a part of a total $175,848 in grants made by MHC this year to support 14 public humanities projects in Michigan. The grants emphasize collaboration among cultural, educational and community-based organizations and institutions to serve Michigan's residents with public humanities programming. The organizations receiving grants will generate an additional $661,302 in cost share and $42,340 in gift revenue. In all, 24 applications were received.

"As our local communities continue to struggle to make ends meet, the Michigan Humanities Council grants program has become more important than ever," says Katie Wolf, MHC executive director. "The Michigan Humanities Council is dedicated to ensuring our families, schools and communities continue to have access to high-quality cultural experiences that also promote cultural tourism. We support projects that encourage residents and visitors alike to reflect upon and discuss those issues and events that comprise Michigan's rich cultural legacy, so together we can better understand each other and work toward a brighter, more informed future."

The Michigan Humanities Council, founded in 1974, is the state's independent, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. For more information, visit or call (517) 372-7770.