Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Grand Portage National Monument

After our visit to High Falls we stopped at the Grand Portage National Monument right on Lake Superior.

In the 1700s Europe had a strong obsession with beaver pelts to the point that beavers were almost extinct in Europe. So their attention shifted to North America that had a great population. A majority of the beaver at that time was on Native American land in French territory. The best routes back to Europe were controlled by the British. A unique and profitable partnership developed, one where the Native Americans were treated equally and all three parties worked together on how to get the valuable beaver pelts from inland North America to Europe.

High Falls was not the only impediment to river traffic along the Pigeon River but it was the most spectacular.

Beaver were trapped by Native American and other fur trappers and then transported by Voyaguers along the rivers. Once they hit the last 20 miles Pigeon River they had to portage around the impassable portions to Lake Superior. The Native Americans had been using a trail for many years which became the "Grand Portage", an 8 and 1/2 mile trail bypassing the river and ending at Lake Superior. Voyaguers carried 90 pound packs like this for almost 9 miles; they sure were tough in the old days.

We began our visit at the Grand Portage National Monument Heritage Center where we saw a great film, narrated by the great grandson of the one of the more influential Native Americans involved in this partnership. The Heritage Center also had great exhibits to learn more.

At the National Monument part of the Stockade has been recreated.  There were guides in the two main buildings, the Great Hall and the Kitchen. Here is what the Stockade probably looked like from a photo in the Heritage Center.

The Stockade was where all the business took place, where the North West Company owners lived, and where meals were served. Here is a picture of the Great Hall we found on the internet.

Here is a photo of the interior of the Great Hall.

Here is another photo of the interior of the Great Hall.

Here is a bedroom of one of the owners of the North West Company, there were four stationed here all the time, that was in the Great Hall.

The 3 other bedrooms in the great hall were setup as displays of other buildings that would have been in the Stockade; the accountants building, trade building, and a display of what the English shops selling products that were shipped from here.

Here is the accountants display.

Here is a picture of the kitchen, probably the most advanced kitchen in the area at that time per the cook manning the kitchen at the time of our tour. Biscuits and gravy and stew were on the menu. To answer a probable question, no we did not sample from the menu, it was for show only. It did smell good so that was a little disappointing.

Once a year there was a "Rendezvous" where Native Americans, Frenchman, and British all gathered and celebrated the great year they had and conducted business. The Rendezvous is recreated each year at the National Monument.

Now for the sad part of the story, what Paul Harvey called "The Rest of the Story". After the American Revolution the boundary between the U.S. and Canada was settled upon as the Pigeon River, putting the stockade on the American side. The North West Company tore down the stockade and relocated it to the new Fort Williams in Thunder Bay Ontario. The film made a note that while the gates of a fort-like structure like the Stockade was usually closed to keep Native Americans out that the Stockade up to this point was opened so that they could enter as partners. We Americans changed that after the Stockade left, we put Native Americans on reservations, what they called in this area as "the hungry years". It is not something we are proud of. Also contributing to the decline was the fashion change in Europe where beaver was no longer in vogue.

It would be interesting to visit Fort Williams in Thunder Bay sometime.

Till next time,

Bob and Jo

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the tour of The Stockade. I, too, am very sadden by what we did to the Native Americans.
    We visited the Badlands today and listened to many stories from the Native Americans. This was their land first...need I say more?