In 1973, Ralph Frese, a Northwest side of Chicago resident and owner of the Chicagoland Canoe Base and Blacksmith shop decided to instigate the 300th-anniversary commemoration of the expedition that Jolliet and Marquette accomplished in 1673. The 1673 expedition was a resounding success in its breadth of knowledge learned about the interior of the North American Continent. A successful route was verified and revealed to the Mississippi River and thus to the Gulf of Mexico. Their return voyage up the Illinois river through Mud Lake and the Chicago Portage to a river that empties into Lake Michigan on the Southwestern shore of said lake would someday become the City of Chicago.
Ralph was no minor player in history himself. He designed, built, and sold a canoe design he named ”Canadienne” that became a foundation of canoe history in itself. Growing up under his father’s tutelage, Ralph was quite an accomplished blacksmith and welder. He was self-taught in everything Midwest. Native Americans, French explorers and settlers that came to what became New France, fiberglass canoe construction, canoe and canoeing history, flora and fauna of this region, historical reenactment for public education, lecturer and an avid outdoorsman, environmentalist, etc.
Ralph was a renaissance man in his own right. His connections to this geographical area served him well in finding people willing to help fulfill his visions. Reid Louis, Rev. Charles McEnery, Leon Broske, Dean Campbell, Bill Dwyer, Kenneth Lewis, Jim Phillips, and Jeff LeClerc were the participants on the 1973 expedition. Their dedication and detailed training well before the launch date of May 17th ensured their success. As a side note, Reid also did a much larger and more monumental reenactment expedition in 1976. That expedition lasted almost 9 months in duration. Both Reid and Rich along with 22 other men participated in that expedition, retraced Rene-Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salles 1681-82 expedition to claim the entire interior of North America from the western side of the Appalachian mountains to as far west as anyone could ride a horse. South, all the way to the mouth of the mighty Mississippi river emptying into the Gulf of Mexico for France.
Reid and Rich have graciously lent me much assistance through advice and archived materials from both expeditions as guides for this modern 350th anniversary. The pictures that follow this article have been provided courtesy of Reid Lewis and Rich Gross.
Following is the House Joint Resolution 533 passed in observance of the reenactment.
“The United States Senate and House unanimously approved a house joint resolution naming Sunday, June 17, as a “Day of commemoration of the opening of the upper Mississippi River by Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet, and calling upon the people of the United States to observe the Tricentenerary with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
The following pictures and articles are from the archives that have been wisely saved and have been lent for use on this website by Reid Lewis and Richard Gross.