Posted by: Kath Usitalo | November 14, 2011

Why Am I Eating Pasties? And Other Lessons From Michigan’s Copper Country

The Calumet Union Building under restoration by the National Parks Service in 2008

Fortunes were made, lives were lost, and United States Senator Carl Levin boils it all down to the origins of the pasty.

Senator Carl Levin

We like pasties at least as much as the politician claims he does, but I hardly think the connection between the copper boom and the meat-and-veggies pie is the most important lesson to be learned at the new Calumet Visitor Center at the Keweenaw National Historical Park in the far reaches of the Upper Peninsula.

Yet that was the point Levin made in an interview during the October 27 grand opening of the interpretive center, which is housed in the renovated Union Building in beautiful downtown Calumet.

Stated Michigan’s senior senator about the $4-million project, “With all of the exhibits that are here the young people are going to be able to come and understand, you know, why am I eating pasties? You know, where’d the pasty come from?”

Do you know where pasties come from?

For a more thoughtful look at the Visitor Center check out the two-part story posted on November 10 at the Copper Country Explorer.

The National Park Service goes into more depth on the history of the Union Building, and shares a look at the structure under restoration.

When we visited Calumet on our U.P. tour of 2008 a great deal of work had been done on the exterior of the 1888 Union Building. The three-story brick structure had served as a gathering place not for labor organizations but for two societies, the Free and Accepted Masons and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

Interior of the Calumet Union Building in 2008, three years before its opening as an interpretive visitor center

I’m looking forward to a return trip to Copper Country and spending time exploring the collection of buildings and sites related to the region’s mining history that make up the Keweenaw National Historical Park.

And to viewing the exhibits at the Calumet Visitor Center so I can, you know, learn where the pasty came from.

Visitor Info Clicks:

Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau

Upper Peninsula

Pure Michigan



  1. This sounds like a great vacation. I just love exploring Michigan!

    • We spent summers in Copper Country because my dad was born and raised in Kearsarge. His dad worked the mines and a brother was killed in a mine accident. While visiting relatives and touring around we saw all these old buildings and towns and took for granted the history and what we now revere as historic sites.

      Next summer I hope to spend some quality time revisiting the Keweenaw and appreciating it in a new light.

  2. so glad that you are all doing this …remember as a kid going into this building …my MOM and DAD would be sooo Happy …

  3. my dad was from the heights… Taipalus was the last name…

  4. my Mom grew up in Hubble … she is a Poisson… and sister of Ernie Poisson… Love u Uncle Sonny!!!! kisses!!!

    • By chance related to a Tom Poisson I knew at University of Detroit?

    • So then you are one of my relatives too.

      • Really?!?!
        Please email me at

  5. I heard a story while in the U.P. that pasties originated with the miner’s wives making them for their husband’s lunch. They were nutritious and easy to make and carry in to the mines. If wrapped properly,they would still be warm when lunch time rolled around. Much easier to carry than a lunch box or bag and would stay in one piece. I’m sure there’s more to the story. Had my first one at a little bar just outside of Newberry called Topper’s. It was the BEST! Sadly, Toppers is no longer there but I make it a point to stock up on these tasty treats each time my husband and I go to the U.P. Tried a few different places finally deciding that Lehto’s Pasties on US2 just out of St.Ignace are the best. Can’t wait to get back up to the Keweenaw!

    • Hi Christine: You’re right about pasties being miner food. They were introduced by the Cornish immigrants, but adopted by the Finns. My mom and grandma made the BEST…I’ve been searching for a good substitute. Please see my Great Lakes Gazette posts below for some goodies. Inspired by Senator Levin’s comments I just bought ingredients to make pasties with mom’s recipe and I’ll post it at Great Lakes Gazette.

      Please subscribe to the blog and you’ll get an alert each time I do a new post—including the pasty recipe!

      Hiawatha Pasties (made in beautiful downtown Naubinway)

      Road Food Report: Pasty Quest

  6. I’m wondering why you found it necessary to put a negative spin on a perfectly harmless comment SENATOR Levin made during the ceremony marking what is a wonderful addition to Calumet and the entire area.

    • Hi James:
      The Senator’s comments were funny!. No spin—I just quoted him.
      Did you click the link to see him on the video clip I took it from?
      Please see my note below in response to Tina re: my attachment to Copper Country.
      I have a family connection to the region and I think my post expresses what a great thing this visitor center is and will be.
      But I had to laugh at the Senator’s choice of comments about the pasties.
      Thanks for checking in at Great Lakes Gazette.

  7. We love the upper peninsula….we used to go to the up every summer but since gas price has increased we’ve not been able to get to copper country as much;(
    We are looking fwd to going this coming summer
    and pasties are always on our menu
    especially the originals from lehetos in St.Ignace on us2.

    • Hi: Most people don’t realize how far it is and how long it takes to drive to the Keweenaw from Lower Michigan. Lehto’s is a classic—a U.S. 2 landmark. Thanks for checking in at Great Lakes Gazette!

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