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June 7–16, 2013
As in all things Mackinac, there’s a history worth recounting behind the 64-year-old Mackinac Island Lilac Festival. It was the brainchild of two island women, lilac lovers Stella King, who was also the island nurse, and Evangeline (Ling) Horn, owner of a popular restaurant and bar on the island. The two asked young Bill Chambers, back then a teenager working for his father at Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, if he’d set the parade up with a carriage and a team of horses to pull it.
As Chambers recalls, he couldn’t think of anything worse to do. Not only would the parade close down Main Street, the mainstay of his family’s tour business, but also horses get notoriously skittish around crowds and parades. Then again, how could he say no? King had delivered him (as she did all island babies back then), Ling was a friend, and he loved lilacs. So Chambers dutifully bedecked a Mackinac Island Carriage Tour carriage with lilacs and bridled up a team of horses to carry the first-ever Mackinac Island Lilac Queen down Main Street. And here’s the happily ever after for Chambers’s good deed: Many years later, he married that lilac queen.
Chambers is still the man behind the carriages and most of the horses in the parade—which has grown into a 10-day festival. Look for all things Mackinac during this blossom celebration: A Native American leads the parade (in honor of the island’s rich native history); Irish dance performances in Marquette commemorate the island’s Irish population; the Taste of Mackinac features food prepared by island chefs; and lilac expert Jeff Young offers his daily Lilac Walk and Talks. The ferry lines, Fort Mackinac, the Grand Hotel and Mission Point Resort all amp up the fun with special events. New in recent years is the Mackinac Island Dog & Pony show (featuring entertainment by nationally known horse trainer Daryl Wallen) following the hilarious Epona & Barkus Parade. mackinacislandlilacfestival.org and mackinacisland.org.