Grand Portage:
A History of The Sites, People, and Fur Trade
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Reference is made to Appendix 9 in this report. Alan Woolworth, who is very much aware of the archeological situation at Grand Portage, has made several recommendations for further excavating. Because documentary evidence on the structures is scarce, this additional work is quite critical to an understanding of the area at Grand Portage and at Fort Charlotte. Woolworth's comments on re-excavating the interior of the NW Co. stockade are also important. An examination of his report on the work done in the 1930's shows that modern techniques and adequate funding and supervision could well be employed in the compound.


A relatively small amount of level land lies within the boundaries of Grand Portage NM. At the same time, space is required for such necessities as a visitor center and a maintenance area. Great care should be taken in selecting these sites so that damage to or intrusion upon historic scenes does not occur. Few remains will ever be found of the northmen's camp ground or of the Montreal voyageurs' sleeping area along the shore. Yet these sites, insofar as they may be determined, are as historically important as the foundation ruins of the great hall. They should not be "used" for modern conveniences on the basis that archeology shows no traces of ruins. The files show that a few years ago consideration was given to placing some of the modern necessities in that part of the park between Lake Superior and Mount Rose that lies to the southwest of the NW Co. stockade. Inasmuch as this area still seems to be the one least affected by the events of the fur trade, that concept still appears to be sound.

We may never positively identify such sites as the canoe-manufacturing yard (local tradition suspects it was a few yards up Grand Portage Creek). Yet when determining future plans for the park, the unknown should be considered along with the known.

Great Hall

Architectural experts agree that the existing reconstruction of the Great Hall is far from satisfactory. Yet Grand Portage needs reconstructions if casual visitors are to acquire any deep appreciation of its history. Recommend that the work of Dr. Hussey and Mr. Koue in studying fur trade posts be continued. Also recommend that the park prepare an RSP for research on great halls, with particular emphasis on Fort William, Ont. In the process of preparing this report, I noticed a number of descriptions and illustrations of Fort William that would be useful in reconstructing a great hall, especially since the same men were at both posts and Fort William was Grand Portage's successor. However, I believe that the present great hall should not be removed until 1. a visitor center is completed and 2. until the study and plans for a new reconstruction are completed.


While Grand Portage lacks structures, it has a wealth of themes suited for interpretation, e.g., canoe construction, fur presses, the voyageur, portaging, trade goods, and many more. Interpretation could take place at Grand Portage, the portage itself, and on to Fort Charlotte. The portage itself is in many ways equally important as the concentration at the eastern end—it was the sole reason that the fur traders concentrated there.

The Portage

The eastern end of the portage has certain problems, such as a highway crossing it, a village on both sides, and a great many physical developments accompanied by a lack of documentation as to its exact route through Grand Portage village. But farther west the trail has remarkable integrity. Autos may now reach a point about half-way along the trail via a dead-end road (the former highway to Canada). Recommend that visitors be encouraged to drive this road and at the end of it be further encouraged to walk a portion of the portage.

Among the fascinating aspects of this beautiful portion of the portage, at present, is a very active beaver colony. The park is to be complimented for allowing this colony to continue its operations, even though the beavers constantly flood a portion of the trail. Some modification of the beavers' efforts are necessary, of course, just to keep the trail open to portagers and hikers. This is successfully done by daily monitoring. The ponds are successfully navigated by means of board walks. This practice should be continued for there is room for beavers and visitors. The experience also reminds us that in the fur trade days, portages were seldom easy, dry walks. Where else, at present, may one see a beaver colony at work—the animal that caused the fur trade to reach its zenith.


No matter how one looks at it, the prime significance of Grand Portage is its relationship to the building of Canada. By every test, except its location south of the later international border, its history is Canadian. Other than its role in the North American fur trade in general and the rivalry between Great Britain and the United States in the far west, the historical importance of the park cannot be forced into United States history. This fact should cause no great problem; in this case we are the custodians of a site at which occurred important events of another country's history.


Since the completion of the report, the Great Hall at Grand Portage burned to the ground when struck by lightning. This accident invalidates part of the recommendations concerning the Great Hall that are found on pages v and vi. However, the rest of those recommendations are still valid and are retained for the reader's consideration.

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Last Updated: 15-Jul-2009