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Liggett students propose signage for historic canal

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 5, 2016

 University Liggett School U.S. history teacher Chris Hemler and students Cassie Zeng, Skye Vreeken and Jackson Wujek take a look at Canal Park, in Clinton Township, Dec. 8.

University Liggett School U.S. history teacher Chris Hemler and students Cassie Zeng, Skye Vreeken and Jackson Wujek take a look at Canal Park, in Clinton Township, Dec. 8.

Photo provided by University Liggett School

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — University Liggett School’s 10th-grade U.S. history students are on a quest to bring some history to the masses regarding the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal.

The students want others to know how Michigan Gov. Stevens T. Mason initiated a construction project in 1838 that would include a 216-mile canal to connect Lake St. Clair with Lake Michigan. 

According to Liggett staff and students, digging for the canal began near present-day Mount Clemens. However, the project was abandoned several years later after the bank that financed it ran out of money.

Some of what remains of the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal can be found in Canal Park in Clinton Township. According to Liggett school officials, grass and trees cover the 20-foot-wide ditch, while a tow path to pull boats now houses electrical lines. The locks remain buried underground, according to Liggett staff and students.

As part of class, the students visited Canal Park Dec. 8, where they proposed historical signage to give visitors a better understanding of the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal. 

The students presented their signage plans to the Clinton Township Historical Commission. The students’ hope is that they will be able to install a few signs in the park regarding the canal. They haven’t yet heard back from commission members about it. 

“This marks a shift in the year for our students not only to be students of history, but to become historians,” U.S. history teacher Chris Hemler said. “They are applying their research and knowledge to create an outward-facing display of history, just like any historian would do. This is a real-world process.”

School officials said the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal would have avoided the long, often dangerous trip that ships took around the Straits of Mackinac. Locally, it was supposed to begin in a town named Frederick, near Mount Clemens, and continue through Utica, Rochester, Pontiac and Howell. 

Liggett Upper School humanities teacher Nate Crimmins said the students needed to discover the various parts of the canal on their own.

“They are doing that by working with the information they have and the information they will find on the site visit,” Crimmins said.

Liggett’s 10th-grade history class looks at the French explorers who settled among the Native Americans in the region, as well as the founding of early Detroit, and gives students an opportunity to explore local historic attractions to put these lessons into context. The history course, launched last year, has received a number of recent honors including a State History Award for Educational Programs from the Historical Society of Michigan.