Carrying On a Way of Life at Grand Portage

November 21, 2018Rocío LowerNPF Blog
— Rocío Lower

When you’re standing on the end of the dock at Grand Portage National Monument, time stops. Your senses are ignited with the feel of the wind against your skin, with the sound of Lake Superior moving all around you, with the view of a place that the first people call home.

The Original People

Birchbark wigwams on green grass at Grand Portage National Monument
National Park Service

In what’s referred to as “time before memory,” the Ojibwe, who call themselves the Anishinaabe (the original people), migrated from the Atlantic coast. They traveled west in search of the prophesized place where food grows on water.

Raw wild rice in a basket at Grand Portage National Monument
Rocío Lower

Their discovery of manoomin (wild rice) growing in the Lake Superior area enabled the Ojibwe to settle down and make their new home.

When the Europeans began exploring the Great Lakes region, they relied on Native peoples to learn how to survive the sometimes-harsh environment. The Ojibwe shared their technology, food, and knowledge of navigating the land and waters of the Gitchi Onigaming (the Great Carrying Place), or what became known as the Grand Portage trail.

Where Cultures Converged

Historical enactment camp with canvas tents and people walking in period clothing at Grand Portage National Monument
National Park Service

The first written accounts of travel by Europeans along the Grand Portage date back to the early 18th century. They mention the native peoples’ expertise in traversing the footpath between Lake Superior and the Pigeon River – Gitchi Onigaming was the most direct route between the Great Lakes and the river’s access to interior parts of Canada.

Map of the grand portage trail from the site of Fort Charlotte to the Heritage Center at Grand Portage National Monument
National Park Service

The 8.5-mile trail was called the Great Carrying Place because it gave travelers a way to circumvent the Pigeon River’s dangerous falls, rapids, and gorges. Instead, they carried supplies and goods by land and over the portage. Trade flourished between Europen explorers and native peoples because of the route’s popularity.

Its prime location and available resources made Grand Portage the nexus of civilization and commerce.

By the time the North West Company established its depot in 1784, Grand Portage was known as the gathering place for trade partners, clerks, voyageurs, and native peoples. Each year, the site would host a rendezvous (the French word for a meeting or assembly) during which this confluence of people would come together to trade goods and supplies while enjoying the entertainment, dance, and celebrations through the night.

Sunny day along the rocky tree-lined coast of Lake Superior at Grand Portage National Monument
Rocío Lower

Evolving fashion styles and the depletion of the area’s fur-bearing animals marked financial hardship for the region’s commerce. In 1803, the depot was closed and abandoned.

If you’ve never visited the tip of Minnesota’s arrowhead, add Grand Portage National Monument to your travel bucket list. The park’s fascinating history, engaging programming, and views of Lake Superior will make you start planning your next #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque adventure here.

Comments

This is amazing that I came across this as my wife and I are planning a MN/WI trip in Aug of 2019 and we plan on stopping here. Great article.
Donald
Pudas
This is a very historical and educational place to visit. Well worth the stop!
Jenny
Smith

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