Each decade since 1990 a team of historians, educators, students, civic leaders, and scientists embark on a journey of discovery to document the conditions and opportunities offered along the Grand River watershed. Hugh Heward made that grueling journey for many of the same reasons 200 years earlier.

Hugh Heward was a well-educated British fur trader based in Detroit. He and seven French-Canadian boatman outfitted two birch bark canoes in preparation for a first-of-its-kind exploration of the Grand River. On March 24, 1790 Heward and his men headed down the Detroit River on an adventure that would take them across lower Michigan from Lake Erie to Lake Michigan by way of the Huron and Grand Rivers and then on to Chicago. Heward detailed the odyssey in a day-to-day journal that has been preserved over the centuries.

On Tuesday, April 27, 1790 Heward's party arrived in present day Grand Haven where he entered the following:

Embarked after getting some sturgeon & passed a plain to the east in about an Hour where it appeared to be a wintering place (Langlade's post) the river still larger & a good smooth Current but a North Wind strong against us the Course West & the River larger & very wide at the Entrance of the lake (Spring Lake) where we arrived at Sunset &found Mr. Langlade who appeared to be very friendly & promised to get me some Gum (to seal canoe seams). Encamped on the other (north) side there being many Indians with him.

The next day Heward's team headed south along the Lake Michigan shoreline:
Set off the Wind North by West under sail but before Mid Day the wind forced so as to oblige us to put into the River a Barbu (Pigeon River) & with Difficulty got in & got some sprays of the swells & we there camped & unloaded to Gum the Cannots (canoes).

Heward successfully completed his voyage to Chicago and returned to Michigan by an unknown route. In 2000 Heward chronicler, Jim Woodruff, became involved in the modern day Grand River Expedition and issued the "Hugh Heward Challenge" daring expedition canoeists and kayakers to match Hugh Heward's long-distance dash down the Grand River and beyond. That challenge remains thrown down today.

Excerpted from Jim Woodruff's 2004 unpublished "Across Lower Michigan by Canoe"