Sudbury·Backroads Bill

Voyageurs' portages can be travelled today

Northern explorer Backroads Bill takes readers and listeners to some of the special places found on the backroads of northern Ontario.
Backroads Bill Steer (Supplied by Bill Steer)

Bill Steer, a northern Ontario explorer, says one can actually visit where the voyageurs landed. 

The La Vase Portages — a 14 km route connecting Trout Lake and Lake Nipissing — was used thousands of years ago by First Nations, Steer said.

North Bay historian Roy Summers looks out at the bend depicted in the Woolford painting from 1821. (Bill Steer)
This water colour was painted by John Woolford in 1821. (Supplied)

"During the age of exploration, and then the fur trade, it was soon established as a major artery into the interior of North America, as the Mississippi River was too long and the Hudson and James Bays were not always ice free." 

Steer spoke with Roy Summers, a North Bay historian, who said there is written evidence of these portages in correspondence dating as far back as 1620. 

"From that time on I have been able to unearth several very accurate maps done by various government agencies over a period from 1845 to 1970 that define these portages and their precise location," Summers said.

A water colour painting by John Woolford in 1821 depicts one of the portage locations, which can now be accessed from the Kate Pace Way trail system in North Bay.

Summers said hawthorn trees growing in the area are tell-tale signs of human activity. Hawthorn berries were often used in the creation of pemmican, the portable food consumed by the voyageurs.

"These locations are the leftovers of undigested hawthorn berry seeds from the voyageurs' pemmican," he said.

Map by Sir William E. Logan, founder of the Geological Survey of Canada, showing the the three La Vase Portages in 1845

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