Boblo is an island located in the Detroit River on the Canadian side of the border near Amherstburg, Ontario. The island, which is only 274 acres in area, is known primarily as the former site of a popular amusement park and for its rich history as a military outpost.
Boblo is a mispronunciation of the island’s original name “Bois Blanc,” which means “white woods” in reference to the white birch trees that grow on the island. On the south
side of the island are two unique buildings that date to the late 1830s. The first is a wooden blockhouse, one of three that originally stood on the island. It was part of the military defenses at Fort Malden in Amherstburg. The second building is a limestone lighthouse that was commissioned by the Government of Upper Canada to help sailors navigate the narrow channels around the island. Both structures were important locales during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837-8 and were declared National Historic Sites in 1955 for their historical and architectural significance.
In 1898, the island shifted from military outpost to recreational parkland when the Detroit, Windsor, and Belle Isle Ferry Company purchased the property. The island attracted picnickers during the summer months who enjoyed the scenic gardens, baseball diamonds, and carrousel rides. Over the years, the island’s reputation as a premier summertime destination grew as more and more attractions were added to the park. The dance hall, which was commissioned by Henry Ford and designed by John Scott, was a premier concert destination from the 1920s to the 1960s. In the mid-1900s, state-of-the-art amusement rides were added to the park, including roller coasters, trains, bumper cars, and a Ferris wheel. For decades, the amusement park drew thousands of visitors from Michigan, Ohio, and southern Ontario. To get to Boblo, visitors took one of two steamship ferries that departed from Detroit and Gibraltar, Michigan, and Amherstburg, Ontario: the SS Columbia and the SS Ste. Claire. These ferries, which were designed by famed naval architect Frank Kirby, carried excited passengers to the island for nearly 80 years until they were decommissioned in 1991.
By the 1980s, many of Boblo’s rides and attractions became outdated and the park’s popularity waned. Attendance and revenues steadily declined until the amusement park finally closed in 1993. A year later, Michigan businessman, John Oram, purchased the island for $2.5 million USD. Since then, it has become a residential community. Developers have built a number of luxury houses and condominiums on the north end of the island, as well as a restaurant and a general store. The Amherstburg Ferry Company operates a small ferry which carries residents and visitors to and from the island.
“Boblo Island.” South Western Ontario Digital Archive (n.d.).
“Boblo Island Abandoned Amusement Park.” Atlas Obscura (n.d.).
“Bois Blanc Island Lighthouse and Blockhouse National Historic Site of Canada.” Parks Canada Directory of Federal Heritage Designations (n.d.).
“Gallery: Memories of Boblo Island.” Windsor Star (3 August 2009).
“The History of the Bob-lo Steamers.” Bois Blanc Steamers (n.d.).
Morelli, David. “Boblo owner soliciting government support.” Windsor Star, 16 September 1994, A11 (no link available).
Morelli, David and Blair Crawford. “Memories for sale.” Windsor Star, 21 May 1994, E1 (no link available).