Lake Erie: A Pictorial History


224 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55046-361-6
DDC 971.3'3




Reviewed by John R. Abbott

John Abbott is a professor of history at Laurentian University’s Algoma University College. He is the co-author of The Border at Sault Ste Marie and The History of Fort St. Joseph.


Many are inclined to think of Erie as the least interesting of the Great
Lakes: small, shallow, murky when not dirty, fed by rivers so polluted
they are apt to catch fire; tombstoned by grotty Buffalo at its eastern
end, filthy and dangerous Detroit at its western end, and decaying
Cleveland in the middle. Here and there along its shores we’re apt to
find the pleasure parks of the vulgar: the Coney Islands of the Midwest.
The Canadian side is put down as an agricultural backwater whose economy
was once augmented by a coarse fishery.

This is a mental image that text alone cannot modify. The merit of this
splendid volume is to be found in its many pictures and the extensive
captions that accompany them. While a kernel of truth resides in each of
the allegations raised against the lake and its environs, the authors’
selections from the pictorial and map collections of some 40 archives
reveal an integrated historical panorama of admirable proportions,
rather than the ugly caricature outlined above.

Almost every chapter contains pictures detailing the consequences of
storms, and Chapter 7, “Storms and Shipwrecks, Fire and Ice,” is
devoted to them. Those who love ships and shipping, both for commerce
and pleasure, will delight in the many illustrations depicting the
evolution of shipping on the lake. The commercial fishery and the boats
associated with its evolution also have a significant place in the book,
as do the various ports, large and small. Industrial establishments and
processes, as well as the striking residential, commercial, and
institutional environments of Detroit, Buffalo, and Cleveland and other
cities, are depicted as they really were at the moment: sometimes grimy
and smoky, often congested, sometimes glittering.

The authors have not neglected the people, and particularly those at
play. Runs of photographs depict the evolution of the camp meeting,
pleasure ground, and amusement park, almost always adjacent to the lake.
A short chapter is devoted to pictures of a people on the run: those who
travelled on the underground railroad and the places that harboured
them. Hunting, sport fishing, birdwatching, and butterfly pursuits also
have their collections.

Readers who are interested in Lake Erie’s history and who enjoy the
perspectives that pictures present should not hesitate to acquire this


Macfie, Julie, and Ken Sobol., “Lake Erie: A Pictorial History,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024,