Canoeing on Lake Superior

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A “real” Montreal Canoe in the Canoe Warehouse

The most fun thing we did on training last week was canoeing on Lake Superior.  But we didn’t canoe in plain, old, aluminum canoes.  No – we had 16 people in a reproduction Montreal Canoe!

Montreal Canoes were the semi-trucks of the fur trade.  They could carry up to 16 voyageurs and passengers and four tons of cargo.  The voyageurs paddled the Montreal Canoes on the Great Lakes and the rivers between Montreal and Grand Portage – a journey of 1400 miles.  Although the canoes were made out of birchbark and were very fragile, they could hold an enormous amount of cargo.

The reproduction Montreal Canoe here at Grand Portage is made out of fiberglass.  It is much heavier than the birchbark canoes and I wouldn’t want to have to carry it over any portages.  But fiberglass is certainly more durable for 16 volunteers and staff to take out on Lake Superior.

Grand Portage is in a bay, protected by Pete’s Island.  So the waves don’t get as big as they do out on Lake Superior.  Our plan was to paddle toward Pete’s Island, go out of the bay, see the Ojibwe Spirit Tree, and then head back to the dock.

Loading into the canoe
Loading into the canoe

Just getting the canoe into the water took all hands.  Fortunately we didn’t have to carry it very far.  Then we all climbed in from the dock, loading back to front.  Tom and I were in the front except for the guide, Rick.  Rick stood in the front because the rest of us were taking all the seats.  Bill steered the canoe from the back.

The first challenge was learning to paddle together.  The voyageurs used songs to help them stay together.  Debbie remembered that my program is going to be on the songs of the voyageurs so she suggested I lead everyone in some of the songs.  I quickly learned that I cannot sing in French and paddle at the same time!  Even the simplest song, Alouette, needed my complete concentration.  But we tried that and another song, En Roulant Ma Boule.  Everyone did a great job of following, even if the song leader wasn’t very good at leading!

It was a beautiful day.  We saw two bald eagles nesting together in a tree on Pete’s Island.  We also saw the Ojibwe Spirit Tree.  After canoeing about an hour, Bill suggested we paddle another hour or so before we headed back.  I was ready to lead a mutiny, since my arms were already tired!  But I think he was just teasing us because we turned around and headed back shortly after that.  The wind was picking up and the waves were getting bigger, especially out of the bay.

I don’t have any good pictures because I decided it was best to leave my camera on shore.  If I can’t sing and paddle, I wasn’t sure I could keep track of my camera as well!  The only way to get a good picture was to take it from shore and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to go canoeing on Lake Superior in a Montreal Canoe.