Hunts' Guide to The Upper Peninsula

Totem Village Museum

Totem Village toys
For the children’s section of her souvenir shop at Totem Village, Nancy Dandona emphasizes toys for active, imaginative play. Rain sticks and drum-like rattles are special favorites.

To passing motorists, Totem Village - part museum, part gift shop, part zoo - may not seem any different from Curio Fair or Indian Village, themed tourism done by amateurs with a primarily commercial intent. However, if you come inside and explore, it's clear that Totem Village is informed by a sincere spirit that respected Ojibwa life as its founder came to understand it, at a time when very little attention had been paid to Ojibwa culture.

The late Ralph McCarry's roadside attraction was started in the 1950s. It falls in the category of folk art or outsider art environments by visionary artists who use images and words to preach their messages. A heart attack meant that McCarry, in his late 40s, couldn't hold down a logging job. (He had worked on Tahquamenon logging crews.) He became fascinated with wood carving and started to research and study subjects from lumber camps to early forts to Indian life. His efforts and collections grew in scope and scale and did come to provide a living for him and his family.

Contemporary sophisticates can fault McCarry for mixing Ojibwa philosophy with totem poles from the Pacific Northwest. McCarry's approach predated by decades any hint of political correctness. "He was part Indian himself and saw Totem Village as an educational tool to restore pride in the Chippewa heritage," says proprietor Nancy Bandana, who readily points out that totem poles were not indigenous to the area. Local Native Americans were pleased to be subjects of any favorable publicity at the time. They honored McCarry with the name "White Wolf of the Chippewas" and held spring and fall feasts at Totem Village.

Kids, who don't expect museum-caliber labels of provenance, are open to experiencing this rambling place. And kids like it that a few dollars can go far in the gift shop, too. Totem Village also has a good selection of books and music mostly about Eastern Woodland Indians, and crafts like quill boxes.

Peaceful pipe music accompanies the museum experience. It starts with a collection of beautiful beadwork, pipes, arrowheads, and other artifacts from many native cultures, displayed in a dark, confined log corridor. Then the museum opens up to areas of life-size dioramas and, finally, the big, 40' by 60' totem pole building, over 20' high, with a replica of an Ojibwa medicine lodge, strewn with juniper boughs. Here are meticulous scale models of a lumber camp, Fort Fond du Lac in Wisconsin, and the first Soo lock.

Here too are McCarry's primitive paintings, and hand-lettered philosophy such as "Be not puffed up but kneel and pray with your brother" and his Chief's Prayer: "Before I condemn a brother, let me walk in his moccasins for 3 months."

Beyond it paths lead outside, where bobcats, sprightly sika deer, peacocks, thunder foxes, and a porcupine are in large enclosures beneath cedars.

Nancy Dandona bought Totem Village in 1969. "I feel I'm its caretaker," she says. "People expect my museum to be like a state museum. That hasn't been my intention." Nancy has gone to great lengths to preserve the vulnerable totems, which suffered in an outdoor environment. For years she thought she would have to move the whole place for a highway reconstruction project. It was eventually cancelled.
Two miles west of the Mackinac Bridge on U.S. 2. 643-8888. Open from May thru October and by chance at other times. Open at least from 10 to 5. In summer it's open longer, sometimes from 8 or 9 a.m. to perhaps 10 or even 11 p.m. Admission to museum: $2/adult, $1/child, under 5 free. $5/family. Wheelchair access: museum is fine. Assistance needed outside on one hill.

Return to U.S. 2 from the Bridge

Father Marquette Memorial. Interpretive panels focus on how native people used plants and animals, and Marquette and Jolliet's 1673 journey from St. Ignace to the Missisippi. ... more

Totem Village. A disabled logger's 1950s folk art environment and museum paId tribute to Native Americans when mainstream culture looked down on them. Classic crafts, toys, books and music. Outside: a small woodland zoo. ... more

Souvenir Barn. A bridge-viewing site on the roof of an old-timey souvenir shop. Outstanding view of Mackinac Bridge, Straits, and possibly freighters. ... more

Curio Fair. Another nostalgic tourist trinket shop, adorned by seashells. An 8-story high tower gives views of both the Mackinac Bridge to the south and forests to the north ... more

Totem Village Museum. A handicapped logger took up wood carving and created a folk art homage to Indian values, getting in touch with his own Ojibwa ancestry in the process ... more

Mystery Spot. Endless billboards build traveling kids' excitement for this classic roadside attraction, fun for adults and kids alike ... more

Gros Cap roadside park and St. Helena Island overlook. Take in a fine view, while picnicking, of St. Helena Island and its lighthouse 2 miles offshore ... more

Hiawatha National Forest/St. Ignace Info Center and administrative unit. A picnic spot and native plant garden outside. Inside, handouts and good advice about camping, fishing, berry-picking spots, and wilderness areas ... more

Our new interactive map to U.P. motels that offer exceptionally low rates. See also our useful detailed maps to U.P. TOWNS. These custom-made maps locate landmarks and attractions.
Michigan's Upper Peninsula - Hunts' Guide to the U.P.

Michigan's Upper Peninsula - Hunts' Guide to the U.P.
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