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Ralph
06-23-2008, 08:22 AM
We think of the rendezvous in terms of the mountain men of the west, arriving on horseback. I've been re-reading the books of Sigurd Olson and am reminded that the earliest rendezvous were made by canoe.

The fur trade was really responsible for exploring the west and the voyageurs were the first of the these. While their expeditions were for purposes of trade and profit, they maintained extensive diaries and mapped every area over which they traveled.

One of the oldest and biggest was the rendezvous at Grand Portage, on the western edge of Lake Superior where the brigades from Montreal met the Athabasca brigades from the northwest. Grand Portage is well-named, at 9 miles it is the longest portage of the voyageur trade routes and was a natural rendezvous point.

The Montrealler canoes were huge, about 32' long with beams up to 8' and capable of carrying tons of payload over the big water of the Great Lakes. (Remember that all of these canoes were made of cedar frames with birchbark skin, the seams sewn from cedar rootlets and waterproofed with pine pitch.)

The North canoe was smaller at about 20' long with 6' beams but still capable of carrying about 2,000 lbs or more.

At Grand Portage the canoes were off-loaded. Trade good were loaded into the North canoes, headed west, furs into the Montreals, headed east. Everything was packed into standard bales weighing 90 lbs. each. The bales were carried by tump line, straps fitting over the top of the forehead. No frames or shoulder straps. A standard load was two bales, the lower tied to the tump line, the upper balanced atop the lower.

The voyageurs were remarkable men. Most were quite small, around 5'6" and weighed around 130 lbs. so a 180 lb. load over a slippery, rocky portage was a lot. Most portages weren't long and although they did travel up and down hills, they weren't climbing mountains. The portage trails weren't highways, but they were fairly clear and took the easier route to save time. The usual thing was to carry halfway so they could rest on the walk back, then complete the portage from the halfway point to the end. Carrying weight was a point of pride and many carried 3 bales if they were able.

One, apparently very large, man was renowned for having carried 5 bales (450 lbs.) over the 9 miles of Grand Portage. How he managed that mechanically I'm not sure, since the top bales would have been well above his head.

Just thought you might be interested in a bit of little-known history.

modustollens
06-23-2008, 09:15 AM
"We think of the rendezvous in terms of the mountain men of the west, arriving on horseback. I've been re-reading the books of Sigurd Olson and am reminded that the earliest rendezvous were made by canoe."

Thanks Ralph - up here in Canuckstan we like the canoe - I have spent a lot of time paddling in these, though not with a 1000lbs of fur.

Did you ever see the History channel's show The Quest For the Bay? (http://www.history.ca/ontv/titledetails.aspx?titleid=46108)

"The recreation of an epic voyage of the 19th century fur-traders from Winnipeg to Hudson Bay in an authentic 12-metre York boat. Eight participants endure an emotionally and physically demanding 1,200-km trip."

The series' trailer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hs1WbBEMNBk) is on you-tube.

I am sure you can download it from the web via a torrent somewhere.

Enjoy;
MT