What You Didn't Learn in School
Trip Start May 15, 2006
2Trip End Sep 04, 2006
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During the last part of the eighteenth century, most people in the world knew little about the United States of America. But almost everyone heard about Gitchi Onigaming, La Grande Portage, or The Grand Portage. For hundreds of years this eight and a half mile cut through the Laurentian Shield allowed the trader to reach the four corners of the world: North to the Arctic Ocean, West to the Pacific, South to the Gulf of Mexico, and East to the Gulf of St Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. Whereas the the land rises up to one thousand feet from Lake Superior in under a mile, all the way from Duluth to Thunder Bay and beyond, at Grand Portage the climb is merely seven hundred feet spread over four and a half miles. The rest of the 8.5 mile portage is relative level to the Pigeon River, which becomes the original I-94 out West. The last ten miles of the Pigeon River to Lake Superior is unnavigable: four waterfalls and numerous Pidgeon River Looing West
rapids and cascadesThe native Ojibwe knew it as Gitchi Onigaming and used it as access to the Boundary Waters, Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods and beyond
Why all of this interest about the interior of the North American Continent? For almost two hundred and fifty years the European fashion moguls dictated that new self respecting gentleman left his home without wearing a castor, a genuine beaver felt hat. Throughout all the major capitals of Northern Europe this was the norm. Averaging about 1/2 years wages for a working man, only the affluent could afford the genuine article. The life expectancy of the beaver in Europe was as long as mosquito in our trailer. Unlike the pesky mosquito, the beaver population in Europe was practically disseminated.
The sixteen hundreds brought the exploitation of the beaver to the New World. Samuel Champlain, think Lake Champlain, saw the opportunity of trading European wares with the local natives: the Huron and Iroquois. He also recognized the efficiency of traveling by native birch bark canoe over the rapids and into the interior of the continent, just like the natives
Word of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow travels quickly among the greedy of this world. In 1670, the English under the direction of Prince Rupert decided to enter the lucrative fur trade by going through the back door, Hudson Bay. Thus the Hudson Bay Company was found. They turned a tidy profit for the English, but never reached the potential of the French traders. The English arrogantly used row boats and found out quickly that they could not transverse the rapids along the rivers leading into the interior of North America. The French controlled the St Lawrence River and its tributaries going to the various tribes to trade. The English were stuck on the shores of Hudson Bay and built their posts waiting for the native to come to them with their furs.. The names of Churchill, York Factory, Albany, etc. still stand today. As an aside, a factory is a place of trade and the factor is the merchant who runs the factory
For about one hundred years this remained the status quo. Then two events changed the way of doing business: the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Loyalists fled to British Canada and saw money to be made in the fur trade. The Frobisher brothers and Simon McTavish joined forces and founded the Northwest Company, which became one of the richest companies in the world at that time. They erected a distribution center on the shore of Lake Superior at the Grand Portage Bay. The post consisted of sixteen buildings. The National Park Service has restored three of the buildings: the great hall, the kitchen, and the lookout tower. The picture to the right shows the great hall and the lookout tower. The kitchen is behind the great hall
Every year on the second weekend in August the monument holds its rendezvous, which is open to the public. More than three hundred reenactors to relive the golden days of the fur trade. Blacksmiths, tinsmiths, shoemakers, French drill team, cartographer , and many others demonstrate their talents. The kitchen, pictured at the left, becomes a bee hive of activity, where over twenty men and women busily prepare a seven course dinner for the three hundred reenactors. Included on the menu are venison, bear, smoked turkey, salad, vegetables of all kinds, desserts, and fresh roasted coffee
In conjunction with the rendezvous, the Grand Portage Band holds its annual Pow Wow, with over 250 dancers, 21 drumming groups, many vendors, and activities for all ages. Thousands of people come for both the USA and Canada to join in the festivities.
There are plenty of accommodations available to the visitors. If one is RVing, the Lodge has a campground right on the lake shore with full hook ups at a reasonable price. If on e wants to dry camp or tent camp, the pow wow grounds are open. The lodge has many rooms available and there is a small motel at Rydens Truck stop before the Canadian border crossing, about seven miles away.