Life on a Lonely Shore:

A History of the Vermilion Point Life-Saving Station

Authors: Edward J. Canfield, D. O. and Thomas A. Allan, Ph.D
Price: $19.99 | Call LTC office for wholesale pricing
First Printing by Lake Superior State University, 1991
Second Printing by Lake Superior State University, 2001
Third Printing by Little Traverse Conservancy, 2023
86 pages, plus References, Index and 66 archival photographs

Readers whose imaginations are captivated by the dramatic sweep of Lake Superior maritime history will be drawn to these stories of the shipwreck rescues and the lives of the keepers and surfmen of the U.S. Life-Saving Service Station at Vermilion Point, located on a remote shore almost ten miles west of Whitefish Point. 

The authors, who served consecutive terms as caretakers at Vermilion Point from 1983-1992, became fascinated with this history of the courageous men and their families who saved the lives of mariners from shipwrecks just offshore in the middle of tumultuous gales, for which Lake Superior is famous. Their scholarly research of National Archives Vermilion Point Wreck Reports, Great Lakes maritime journals, archival letters and newspaper articles, combined with oral histories with descendants of Vermilion lifesavers and cranberry growers, has contributed to this inspiring story of endurance, patience, grit and determination in the face of life-threatening service, monotony and isolation. Dennis L. Noble, Ph.D., author of Sentinels of the Rocks, writes in his Foreword to the book that “readers will come away with a deeper appreciation of the crews whose sole duty was humanitarian and who played a vital role in the maritime history of Lake Superior.” 

The book chronicles the earliest use of Vermilion Point by indigenous Anishnaabe people, who mined the red-pigmented mineral Cinnabar on the shores, contributing to the name “Vermilion” by French fur traders.  The narrative proceeds from the founding of the U.S Life-Saving Service Station in 1876 (one of four along the south shore of Lake Superior) to the descriptions of the lifesavers’ daring rescues of mariners from the wrecks of the Joseph Paige, the Alex Nimick and the Ora Endress, among others.  The dramatic telling of the shipwreck rescues is balanced by well-documented and illustrated descriptions of the daily lives of the keepers and surfmen, who practiced Capsizing and Beach Apparatus Drills with specialized equipment, in accordance with the rigorous standards of the U. S. Life-Saving Service.  

The book also expands the history of Vermilion Point to include the story of the Clarke family’s successful cranberry farm, which ran from in 1887 to 1932.  Poignant descriptions of the lives of the wives and children of the lifesavers add much to our understanding of the rewards and challenges of living and working in this isolated community.  The book also encompasses the story of the merger of the U.S. Life-Saving Service with the U.S Coast Guard Station at Vermilion in 1915 and the shipwreck rescues which continued until 1944.  In this third printing of the book, the authors describe the more recent efforts of Lake Superior State University, Evan Noyes of the Wild Shore Foundation, S.O.S. Vermilion and Little Traverse Conservancy to preserve and protect the historic 1876 Life-Saving Service Station and 1938 USCG buildings, and to responsibly steward the 1.75 miles of sensitive shoreline for all to enjoy.  

Vermilion Point has become one of the top-ten most visited preserves owned by Little Traverse Conservancy, despite its remote location, owing to the public’s interest in this important maritime history and access to a Lake Superior shoreline of untrammeled beauty.

All proceeds from the sale of this book will support the Little Traverse Conservancy Vermilion Endowment Fund to assist with the stewardship of the Vermilion Point Preserve. 


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