This story may be as fundamental and paradigm shifting as when the original Canals were found buried in the mud and Buffalonians rallied to have the streets restored and the canals rewatered for a real canal district. Buffalonians were so united in the belief in the Canal District that we successfully stood up to the Department of Transportation, the State Senate, State Congress and Governor. That took vision, unity and backbone.
With the finding of Le Griffon (considered the”Holy Grail” of Great Lakes shipwreck hunters), it will be a race for the visionaries as to who will be the first city to put it in their city’s urban harbor.
Erie PA has Admiral Perry’s Command Ship Niagara in their Harbor. I would argue that the command ship Niagara has far more connection to Buffalo Niagara than Erie PA, but because they were first to build a replica… they got dibs. It then doesn’t make sense for there to be another replica in Buffalo Niagara. My point is simply, anyone who thinks that visionary urban planners don’t grasp opportunities like this, they are wrong… and Buffalo will have lost a game changing opportunity.
Here is the challenge for Buffalonians! Is Buffalo really changing? Seriously? The old Buffalo would be pessimistic and fatalistic and dismiss this opportunity for cost and effort and futility. The new vibrant energetic Buffalo with a Canal District, a Larkin District and a redeveloping downtown would salivate at grabbing an opportunity to seize the single greatest historical opportunity to tell the story of Buffalo as the Eastern Gateway City to The Great Lakes.
We have the opportunity to tell a story of Buffalo as the Eastern Gateway to the Great Lakes with “Le Griffon” and the French Explorers, then the story of French & British & American settlement, then commercialization with the Erie Canal and top it off with the commercialization via rail with the Central Terminal. That is simply an epic that only a handful of cities in the US could tell!
Remember back in 2007 (before Le Griffon was even found!), when Captain Bill Zimmermann wrote about hatching a plan to build a replica of the infamous ship (see here)? Well, chances are that Le Griffon will remain at the bottom of the Lake Michigan. It will be a long time before the outcome of the wreck, discovered in 2011, will be settled. There are this who feel that it will continue to be a burial site for the sailors at the bottom of the lake, while others feel that it belongs to a Michigan harbor, or even its home country of France for that matter. Ultimately there is a strong Buffalo connection as well, as noted in Captain Zimmermann’s 2007 BRO entry.
I’ve talked about rebranding our city in ways that are nationally and internationally recognizable. The only way to change the old stereotypes is to create a story that supersedes the ingrained narrative. If you want to both retain and attract the creative class, the working class and the technology class, then you must have places that appeal to them. You cannot just reference them in a book as a historic note. These must be real places that colleges and corporations use to market Buffalo as a worthwhile place to live, work and raise a family. It most be done in a way that is unique to Buffalo or it is meaningless. To date, we are getting enough “meaningless and bland”. It wont be enough to keep the momentum going and take us to the next stage. We’ve lost enough of our nautical history. Let’s get some of it back. Let’s stir up the initiative to rebuild Le Griffon, and tell the story right here in Buffalo.
For more information on the shipwreck, check out the following: