Park Next Door - Wilderness North

Celebrating 30 Years of Wilderness North  –          

Park Next Door

Voyageurs National Park

….flanks the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park, and other state and national forests. Together, these protected acres of aqua-wilderness are known as “the Boundary Waters.”

The Ojibwe (also known as Chippewa and Anishinaabe) have lived in the area since at least the 1600s, after migrating from the East Coast in search of food. The Ojibwe harvested rice around the Boundary Waters and trapped fur animals, trading their pelts to French Canadian explorers, who arrived in 1688, for ammunition, flintlock rifles, blankets, and axes.

The park is named for the French Canadian traders, called voyageurs, who traveled through the interconnected border lakes more than a century before the nation’s founding. These hearty mountain men—famous for their wilderness chorales—paddled oversize birchbark canoes, trading and freighting furs from the far reaches of North America back to Montreal.

Traveling in brigades of four to eight canoes, they pushed west in their quest for pelts. Avants (“front men”) stood in the bow navigating, while gouvernails (“rudders”) stood 30 feet back in the stern with paddles as long as six feet. Veritable iron men, the voyageurs often paddled up to 55 strokes a minute, dipping their paddles in unison as they sang about lost love, the weather, or animals.


The voyageurs relied on the Ojibwe as guides and canoe makers, as well as providers of herbal medicine and spiritual advice. But by 1900, the Ojibwe were forced onto reservations around the Great Lakes region in the U.S. and Canada. In Minnesota, the Ojibwe now live on seven reservations: Red Lake, Bois Forte, Grand Portage, White Earth, Leech Lake, Fond du Lac, and Mille Lacs.


Around the same time, loggers and gold miners succeeded the long-gone voyageurs. When the short-lived mining boom ended, resident miners, prospectors, saloonkeepers and shopkeepers, and other gold rushers abandoned Rainy Lake City only years after the city had been established in the northwoods. Nearly 200 people had once lived in this wet-weather place but years later, tourists would continue to visit the silent, once bustling ghost town.

Story provided by The National Geographic Societyß

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