Birch Island Fishery

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cabin looking out over McCargoe Cove, child on dock, fish house at right
Birch Island Fishery, circa 1930s.

Warren/Anderson Collection


Captain Robert L. Francis of Duluth owned and operated a fishery on Birch Island in McCargoe Cove. Francis was known to have the largest pound net operation on Isle Royale, first operating at Francis Point, then Siskiwit Bay in 1888, and finally at the Birch Island location. In 1926, Francis sold his fishery to John (Jack) Linklater and his wife Tchi-ki-wis (Helen), whom were the last Native Americans to work and live on Isle Royale. The Linklater's operated the fishery in partnership with a couple by the surname Hansen (possible co-owner) and also with assistance from Grand Portager Charlie Grandmaison. While most Scandinavian fishermen on Isle Royale used gill nets in their fishery operations, the Birch Island Fishery continued to make use of pound nets, similar to their predecessor Captain Francis.

Frank Warren, a Snug Harbor summer cottager, befriended the Linklaters in the early 1920s. Jack and Frank made frequent canoe trips around the island in pursuit of wildlife photos, sometimes building blinds at the front of the canoe to get the better shot. The Warrens often sent island guests and visitors up to Birch Island to "rough it" with Jack, the location being more rustic than Snug Harbor proper. Jack appears to have served as a guide for some of these excursions and established a hiking trail between Brady Cove and Snug Harbor for those seeking a backwoods experience. Jack and Helen's time on Isle Royale is reflected by Linklater Lake, which is found in the vicinity of the old trail.

Tragically, on July 8, 1933, Jack lost his life to a drowning accident when his canoe overturned on Basswood Lake in the state of Minnesota. Helen followed Jack in death nearly a year later and soon thereafter, the government acquired the Birch Island property from the Hansen family. Many of the Birch Island structures were removed following federal purchase. However, the main cabin remained on site for almost 40 years before its eventual removal by the park service in the mid-1970's.

Isle Royale National Park

Last updated: August 24, 2020