Canton Historical Society


Discover Michigan's Historic Canton

The Ice Age

In the beginning an ancient lake, known as Lake Whittelsey, extended westward from our present Lake Erie to the beach on the Ridge in Canton's western sections. The lake bed contained trace minerals and organic matter in its heavy clay loam that made Canton a rich and fertile agricultural area for future farmers. The ridge, known today as Ridge Road is made up of layers of sand and gravel. East from Ridge Road the land slowly drops off in elevation to the Detroit River, westward from the ridge the land begins to roll in gentle hills. Ridge Road is truly a geological turning point in Wayne County.

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Native Americans

Hunting for game in the abundant woods and streams and gathering berries and other natural foodstuffs were the ways of the Potawatomi Indians that lived in Southeastern Michigan. They traversed the land by way of trails, some of which today we speed along in our automobiles such as Ridge Road, Ann Arbor Trail, North Territorial Road, Geddes Road, Joy Road and Michigan Avenue.

Chief Tonquish, who lived in western Wayne County, was locally famous. The Potawatomi's saw the settlement of the area by whites as in intrusion on their traditional ways of life, and resorted to petty thieving to demonstrate their disapproval. Although no white person was ever injured in these forays, the settlers became irritated and staged an attack on the Indians. After crossing what is now known as Tonquish Creek, Chief Tonquish and his men were captured. The Chief's son tried to escape and was shot and killed by the butt of another man's rifle caving in his head, that same evening in 1819. That incident ended the Indian resistance in these parts. A Michigan State historic marker was erected on the site where this event happened on Wayne Road, just south of Joy.

The First Settlers

In spite of early reports of mosquito-infested swamp land and dense timber unfit for human inhabitation, the settlers came. With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, settlers from New England and upstate new York came west for new land. The first land grant in Canton was given to Philander Burd in 1825. His home has been carefully restored on its original site on Joy Road just west of McClumpha. Other early settlers were Timothy and Rachel Sheldon, who built an inn on Michigan Avenue and later were part of a thriving village.

The new settlers in Canton found heavy timber mainly consisting of elm, black ash and oak and teaming with bears, deer, wolf, lynx, fox, and many others. The land was cleared, homes were built, farms were begun, and schools and churches were organized. By the 1830's civilization had arrived in Canton!