This is the view from halfway up Fort Hill, which is located next to Fort Michilimackinac. The fort overlooks Marquette Park and offers a stunning view of the island and Lake Huron.

This is the view from halfway up Fort Hill, which is located next to Fort Michilimackinac. The fort overlooks Marquette Park and offers a stunning view of the island and Lake Huron.

Photo by Alyssa Ochss

Mackinac Island employees have ‘life-changing’ experiences

By: Alyssa Ochss | Metro | Published June 20, 2024

 During her time working on Mackinac Island, Cassondra Scott enjoyed everything it had to offer, from paddle boarding to visiting the Round Island Lighthouse.

During her time working on Mackinac Island, Cassondra Scott enjoyed everything it had to offer, from paddle boarding to visiting the Round Island Lighthouse.

Photo provided by Cassondra Scott


METRO DETROIT — Mackinac Island is a popular Michigan tourist destination, but it’s also home to hundreds of island employees who work hard and enjoy what the island has to offer.

Paul Caron, who previously lived in St. Clair Shores, worked on Mackinac Island during the 1980s. He said it was his first time living away from home and his first time working in the restaurant business. The experience helped him land other jobs when he was going to school at Macomb Community College and Central Michigan University.

“I had visited but never experienced it like that, because you take time to learn different parts of the island,” Caron said.

During his time working there, he learned about different aspects of the island including the word “fudgie.” He also grew acclimated to the smells of the island’s equine inhabitants.

“You build up to the July Fourth holiday and then (you’re) really into the summer season,” Caron said. “And you start picking up the words of, ‘What’s a fudgie?’ Well, obviously it’s a tourist.”

Caron’s only form of transportation on the island was a bicycle. He said most people who worked on the island didn’t have cars and most stayed on the island year-round. He was also a part of a softball league. He explained the field was located near the old Mackinac Hotel.

“It was really just a field that was made into a softball field, and it had a league there for years,” Caron said. “So that was an interesting, fun thing to kind of do as well.”

The year before Caron went to the island, they filmed the movie “Somewhere in Time” there. The movie featured Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer. Places featured in the movie include the Grand Hotel and the shoreline of the island. The gazebo that was used for filming is still on the island and can be visited by tourists. Plaques are stationed at some of the filming sites as well as historical sites around the island.

“The restaurant that I worked into had some pictures of the filming of that,” Caron said. “And we had kids that worked in our restaurant that were year-round island residents.”

Popular spots for workers included bars and various shorelines around the island, including British Landing.

“There was a high point off of British Landing where you’d go watch the sunset, so that was kind of cool, too,” Caron said.

Cassondra Scott, a resident of Alma, worked on the island for nine summers starting when she was 18. She described the experience as “life-changing.” She said she went from a small town to the island which has thousands of people visiting over the course of the summer.

“They hired people from all over the world,” Scott said. “And I made friends. To this day I have friends in (the) Philippines, California, Florida — like, all over all because of working on the island.”

She went on to say it was unique.

“It has connected me in ways that I never would have imagined,” Scott said.

Scott said she started in retail and moved on to working in hotels for the last four to five summers. She also said she worked at the Grand Hotel during her time there.

“Some days it was like I would just stand on the big front porch and think, ‘How is this really my life?’” Scott said.

The people she met, including both tourists and coworkers, shaped her into who she is, Scott said.

“Working at a really high-end resort hotel, you learn how to really be more proper and more graceful and things like that,” she said.

Scott got more free time as the season settled down. She said she took that time to celebrate the end of the summer with friends by going parasailing and going on “Sip n’ Sail” cruises. She also said they enjoyed bike riding around the island during the summer.

“In the heat of the summer, in the busy period, you work a lot, especially if you work at the Grand Hotel. It’s like 10-hour days,” Scott said. “But towards the end, you got more free time, so those were the things that we’d squeeze in.”

Like Caron, she worked during the summer and went to college during the winter months, though some island workers will work on the island during the summer and find different seasonal employment during the winter, perhaps at a ski resort.

Both Caron and Scott said the busiest times of the season were the yacht races. Two yacht races occur during the summer: the Bayview Mackinac Race and the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac. In the Bayview race, sailors start in Port Huron. In the Chicago race, they start in Chicago. Both races end at Mackinac Island, where sailors will stay and celebrate.

“It’s kind of a different atmosphere during those yacht races,” Scott said.

Caron said that the season didn’t really pick up until Memorial Day, but the boat races were definitely the busiest.

“Definitely the boat races though,” Caron said. “You’re in the restaurant business. You double stocked your stuff. You had long lines of people waiting to get in businesses then.”

Scott said that the island is a close-knit community. She said in the mainland world, cars keep people separated but on an island with no cars, everyone sees what’s going on.

“You’re out on the street, if you’re doing something you don’t want people to see, well, they’re going to see,” Scott said.

Caron said people could tell if someone had fake IDs and that the island is small.

“When you’re on the island, people get to know who you are very quick because you’re there all year-round,” Caron said.

Scott added that the closeness made it more social and that riding around the island was spontaneous.

“But you live in this beautiful tourist destination that everybody else would love to be at, and you live there,” Scott said. “So you just get all of that at your fingertips. And sometimes I think you kind of take it for granted almost because it’s there.”

Scott said she would move back in a heartbeat and raise her children on the island. One of the appealing things about the school is that it has small class sizes.

“There’s just so many advantages to that small close-knit community that they have,” Scott said.

Caron called his experience unusual and different. He also said it helped him mature.

“In some ways it was like college without the studying, because you worked hard and you played hard, to be honest. And you certainly got to see the excitement of the island, people coming to the island,” Caron said.