1 September 2016

More of the North Shore

Minnesota's North Shore Part 2

1-4 September 2016

Judge CR Magney State Park

Our campsite in the forest
The lower of Two Step Falls Judge CR Magney State Park
Nice easy hiking until you get to the steps - 200+
The upper falls of Two Step Falls in Judge CR Magney SP

A few hours up the road I wanted to visit the falls at Grand Portage, I wasn’t sure if it was the National Monument or the State Park, so we did both.

Grand Portage National Monument

The National Monument follows on from our Canadian history as this was the summer inland headquarters for the North West Company that was based in Montréal. The peak French fur trading years over the Grand Portage were between 1732-54. The company realised that the 8.5 mile Grand Portage from Lake Superior to the Pigeon River was the key link to the upper area of north and western Canada as it led around the impassable falls on the Pigeon River. It’s a rugged trail, with rocks and marshes, and increases by 600ft from start to finish. When you consider that the men were carrying two ninety pound packs, it must have been arduous. The North West Company controlled 80% of the North American fur trade in 1800. There was a very interesting video as seen from the natives perspective. They viewed their relationship with the Europeans as a good one and benefited from the goods they traded. The main negative was that Europeans transmitted diseases such as smallpox, and in 1782 many elders and children were killed. The Ojibwe Indian tribe had been trading with the French in Montréal since 1650. The Indians traded furs, wild rice, maple syrup, game, pitch, canoes, and birch bark in exchange for goods that made their lives easier such as wool blankets, kettles, tools and guns.

A Ojibwe Hut made of bark

The Voyageurs were the name given to the workers of the fur trade. There were two types: the mangeurs de lard (pork eaters) and the hivernants (winterers). The mangeurs were hired every Spring in Montreal and made the long summertime canoe trips across the Great Lakes and back again. The hivernants or north men took the freight into the backcountry and stayed over the winter near the Indian villages.

The Voyageurs had to carry goods on the grand portage to bypass the rapids

After the Revolutionary War, in 1784 when the treaty of Paris was signed, the borders of America and Canada were established. The agreement moved Grand Portage from Canada to the American side. As far as the natives are concerned this was the beginning of the end. The trade dwindled and nothing was the same again. It had been a cultural encounter and exchange for 250 years.

Trapping the Beavers

It was the Indians that trapped the beaver’s in winter for two reasons. This was when their coat was thickest and also when they would be holed up in their burrows. The beavers don’t hibernate in winter. The Indians would put a trap at the entrance and beat on the top of the “hut” to scare them out.

Showing the coarse outer fur (bottom), the soft pelt (top)

As the beaver spends a lot of time submerged underwater, they developed a waterproof and winter proof under layer of soft fur. Once the outer layer is shorn off, the soft fur could then be made into felt which could be made into hats and clothing. Furs went from here to London and then as far as Russia.

All the different furs they trapped: beaver, skunk, raccoon, fox, wolf
Hats made from beaver pelts

The canoe

The National Parks Canoe

The Indians had been building canoes for hundreds or thousands of years and taught the Europeans how to make them. Birch bark is used for the canoes skin and cedar for the planking. The birch tree is the only tree that you can peel off the bark vertically and it doesn’t kill the tree. New bark will grow back eventually but it’s not as nice as the original bark and it can’t be peeled off again, but the tree can be used for timber. Spruce roots are used for sewing the pieces of bark together to form a single canoe skin. Poles are planted every two feet outlining the shape of the canoe, then the canoe skin is placed inside. The cedar gunwales are sewn to the bark. Ribs of cedar are soaked and bent to the shape and forced into place. Cedar planking is placed on the bottom. The joints are sealed with spruce resin to make it watertight (for a while!).

If you leave the canoe out in the sun it will turn white and disintegrate, but if you store it under cover, it should last a very long time. It is incredibly light and waterproof. The canoes do leak however, but that is around the seams, so they require a lot of maintenance. They needed light canoes as there are many rapids in this area, the main one being Grand Portage Falls, so they had to carry the canoes around the rapids and falls.

The Northwest company used two sizes of canoe. The 24 foot ones could carry 1.5 ton of cargo and be carried by two men. These transported goods between Grand Portage and the Canadian north west. The 36 feet ones could hold 3.5 tons of cargo and had a crew of 14. These transported goods between Montréal and Grand Portage.

Grand Portage State Park

Grand Portage Falls

Kakabeka Falls, Ontario, Canada

One of the guides suggested we go to Kakabeka Falls in Canada, it’s in the provincial park of the same name. As we had our passports, we did. Those border people really don’t like it when you go to another country for a few hours. The falls were pretty spectacular but it was difficult to get a picture as the trees had grown too high. On our way out Lindsay suggested to them that some people come a long way to see these falls and want to take photos of them and that they should prune the trees. She agreed and said she would talk to their maintenance guys. I’m not sure if she just said that to appease him, or that they might actually do it. I hope they do.

Kakabeka Falls, ON

Cascades River State Park

We couldn't stop off at Cascades River State Park on the way through as they have nowhere for us to park our trailer. It was the weekend, so we had to book at a commercial campground that had no dump and no laundry - what sort of campground were they running? You can actually access these from the road, so you don't need to get a parks pass.

Cascades River State Park's lower Cascade Falls
The Cascades

Temperance State Park

The waterfalls at Temperance State Park aren't anything to write about.

Temperance State Park's Hidden Falls

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

On our way down to Winterset we stopped off at this park. We were so lucky we didn't stay the night because we would have been eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Judge CR Magney State Park
Lambs Resort & Campground, Schroeder
Gooseberry Falls State Park again for some R&R


  1. So what do they do to stop the canoes from leaking?

    1. they put more resin on the seams, before that I guess they start bailing!