Legends of Mackinac Island: The history of Sugar Loaf

Published on November 13th, 2019

Covering 3.8 square miles, Mackinac Island is relatively small. One of the joys of visiting the island is being able to ride a bike all the way around it.

But what is now Mackinac Island used to be much, much smaller. The land at one time was almost entirely covered by water. Then, as the ancient glacial Lake Algonquin receded and formed the current Great Lakes, Mackinac Island emerged.Full View of Sugar Loaf During Summer Season

To this day, rising 75 feet up out of the Mackinac Island forest is a tower of rock called Sugar Loaf. It is the tallest limestone stack on the island, very likely formed into a spire as the high waters of Lake Algonquin drained away and eroded the surrounding rock.

At least, that’s what the geological record says.

But there is another story that explains the existence of Sugar Loaf, one told centuries ago by the Native Americans who revered Mackinac Island as a sacred place.

Author Dirk Gringhuis recounted the tale in his “Lore of the Great Turtle” book published by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission in 1970. Here’s a summary:

Legend has it that Sugar Loaf was the dwelling of Gitchi Manitou, the Great Spirit. But according to the tale retold by Gringhuis, the rock was created instead by Manabozho, a part-human/part-divine messenger of the Great Spirit who, in his old age, retired to Mackinac Island.

As the story goes, ten young men from far away embarked on a journey to find Manabozho in hopes he would grant each of them a special wish. After many months, the men arrived at the sacred island that looked like a sleeping turtle, and they found the old man living out his final days.

One by one, each of the ten men asked Manabozho to bestow upon him an extraordinary gift. The first asked to be made into a great war chief, for example, and the second into a hunter of unrivaled skill. The others wished to become a powerful medicine man or a strong dancer, a gifted orator or a captivating storyteller, the best looking, the most athletic, or the most talented craftsman.

Closeup Side View of Sugar Loaf For the first nine men, Manabozho granted their wishes. Then, the last young man approached and asked for eternal life.

Manabozho became angry at the request for “the one gift no mortal can have,” and he pointed his pipe at the man.

The tenth young man suddenly grew larger, and his features turned into the towering Sugar Loaf, where he remains to this day.

Can you make out the profile of his face in the rock?

Sugar Loaf is just one of many landmarks on Mackinac Island that’s rich in natural and cultural history. Each one is part of what makes Mackinac Island so unique and special.

Did you know that more than 80 percent of Mackinac Island is state parkland, free for you to explore? In doing so, you’ll join generations of people who, for centuries, have ventured to the island known as the “Great Turtle” and stood in wondrous awe of the beauty and history of sights such as Sugar Loaf.

What stories will you tell about the mysteries of Mackinac Island?