Minnesota North Shore – Grand Portage National Monument

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Grand Portage National Monument is located on the north shore of Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota.  It exists to preserves a vital center of fur trade activity and Anishinaabeg Ojibwe heritage.  Opened in 2007, the Grand Portage National Monument Heritage Center features exhibit galleries about Ojibwe culture and the fur trade, a bookstore, multi-media programs, park offices, archives and a classroom. The center is a collaboration between the National Park Service and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

History

As early as 2,000 years ago, Indian Nations probably used Gichi-onigaming, or “the Great Carrying Place”, to travel from summer homes on Lake Superior to winter hunting grounds in the interior of Minnesota and Ontario. In 1729 Cree guide Auchagah drew a map for some of the first French fur traders, to show them how to reach the “western sea” of Lake Winnipeg. In time, Grand Portage became the gateway into rich northern fur-bearing country, where it connected remote interior outposts to lucrative international markets.

The Grand Portage trail is an 8.5-mile trail connecting Grand Portage with Fort Charlotte on the Pigeon River. Voyageurs from the interior of Canada would carry their furs by canoe to Fort Charlotte, and portage the bundles of fur to Grand Portage. There they met traders from Montreal, and exchanged the furs for trade goods and supplies. Each canoe “brigade” then returned to its starting place. The fur traders built Fort Charlotte as a trading fort at Grand Portage. There they built the Grand Hall in the French colonial style, which housed their meetings, a general store, and other facilities.

In mid-July 1802, partners of the North West Company, the most successful fur trade company in North America, met in their Grand Hall at Grand Portage. They voted to move their summer headquarters from the protected shores of Lake Superior’s Grand Portage Bay 50 miles north to the mouth of the Kaministiquia River. Almost from the time the Anglo-Scot Nor’Westers had organized at Grand Portage in the mid-1780’s, an emerging United States wanted them to stop competing with Americans in this territory.

The July vote meant that the North West Company would tear down its 18 buildings and transport the materials north in company schooners for use in constructing the planned new Fort William, far from U.S. soil. The buildings were constructed from native squared spruce, pine and birch and were surrounded by more than 2,000 cedar pickets.

Here are my shots from a recent visit to Grand Portage National Monument.

The Grad Portage Trail – seen here in red – must have been quite a haul.  The North Canoe was used on this routed.  At 25′ long, 4′ wide with about 18″ of draft when fully loaded; the canoe itself weighed about 300 lbs.  This was about half the size of the Montreal Canoe that was used on the Great Lakes.  Even with a crew of 5-6, transporting the 300 lb. canoe and just under 3000 lbs of supplies all divided out into 25-30 90 lb packs called pieces, could not have been an easy task.  Those voyagers where hearty stock no doubt.

GrandPortageRoute

Beginning at the stockade on Grand Portage Bay of Lake Superior, the 8.5-mile trail leads westward into the wilderness to a mid-point on the Pigeon River. It passes numerous rapids and a variety of waterfalls.  The most notable are Middle Falls and Pigeon Falls.  Both are part of the Grand Portage State Park and are within the Rove Formation.  Middle Falls is most easily seen from Pigeon River Provincial Park on the Canadian side of the border. To avoid numerous short portages, the Grand Portage was developed.

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