St Joseph Island, 370 km2, lies at the east entrance of the ST MARYS RIVER in the North Channel connecting Lakes HURON and SUPERIOR, about 30 km southeast of Sault Ste Marie, Ont. The island is the most westerly section of the Canadian portion of the NIAGARA ESCARPMENT. The Chippewa called the island Anipich or Payentanassin, a descriptive name for the hardwood trees on the island. Anipich appears on a map drawn by René de Bréhant de Galinée in 1670 based on observations during his travels with fellow Sulpician François DOLLIER DE CASSON. The name "St Joseph" appears on a map made in 1744 and it is thought that Jesuit missionaries gave the name.
In 1797 the British army built FORT ST JOSEPH on the southwestern corner of the island, at the time the most westerly military post in Canada. It became a rendezvous for traders and Aboriginal people, and though it was destroyed in the WAR OF 1812, its remains are visible and have been preserved as a national historic site. Agricultural settlement occurred late in the 19th century.
Today most of the island's population live in 2 communities, Hilton Beach and Richards Landing. The island is known for its MAPLE SYRUP and as a tourist destination. A bridge (built in 1972) connects it to the mainland across St Joseph Channel, a principal navigation route. The St Joseph Island Museum Village traces the history of the island from the fur trade to the mid 20th century.