Height of Land Portage
- There is another Height of Land Portage in Embarrass, Minnesota.
Height of Land Portage
The portage adjoins the cleared boundary vista, the faint vertical line crossing the isthmus between the lakes.
|Location:||Cook County, Minnesota, USA / Thunder Bay District, Ontario, Canada|
|Nearest city:||Grand Marais, Minnesota|
|Area:||2 acres (0.81 ha)|
|NRHP Reference#:||74001012 Search in MN for Height of Land; this is the one located in Cook County.|
|Added to NRHP:||October 18, 1974|
Height of Land Portage is a portage along the historic Boundary Waters route between Canada and the United States. Located at the border of the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of Minnesota, the path is a relatively easy crossing of the Laurentian Divide separating the watersheds of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.
It was used for centuries for canoe travel by the First Nations, and the historic route of which it was a part became a preindustrial thoroughfare giving the Voyageurs and Coureurs des bois access to the fur trading posts in western Canada. For many years the portage was part of an important route from Lower Canada to the interior of the North American continent. It became part of the boundary between British North America and the United States following the American Revolution and treaties delineating the border. In recognition of this history, the portage is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and is a Minnesota State Historic Site.
Located in La Verendrye Provincial Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the unspoiled country along the international boundary, the portage retains its traditional use, but for recreational canoe trips rather than commerce.
The portage, 80 rods (about 402 m) long, crosses a low saddle between North Lake and South Lake in the Rove Formation. It adjoins the boundary vista, a cleared strip which marks the Canada – United States border between those lakes. South Lake is the source of the Arrow River, tributary to the Pigeon River, which flows east to Lake Superior, other Great Lakes, and the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean. North Lake is in the watershed of the Rainy River, which drains by way of the Winnipeg and Nelson Rivers to Hudson Bay.
According to the Canada/US International Boundary Commission Ontario's boundaries with the United States run 2700 kilometers on water and only about one kilometer on land. The 80-rod Height of Land Portage is a significant part of the land border; the remainder is along two other portages, Watap Portage (100 rods) a short distance to its east, and Swamp (or Monument) Portage (~ 72–80 rods) to the west in the BWCA and Quetico Provincial Park.
The Height of Land Portage may have had its origin as a route for foraging or migrating animals. Historians believe that many portages started as animal tracks, and were later used by the early inhabitants of the area. Prior to the Contact Period (when peoples of the First Nations first encountered European explorers), those natives had long used birchbark canoes as the principal means of travel in the thick boreal forest of the Quetico-Superior area. The Height of Land Portage likely was used by those peoples.
The search for the Northwest Passage, the fur trade, and missionary activity brought European travelers to the area. La Vérendrye had discovered this native route in 1732, when he used it to reach Rainy Lake. In the latter part of the Eighteenth Century it was used by voyageurs of the French-Canadian fur brigades as their main route from Grand Portage on Lake Superior to the pays d'en haut, the "upper country" beyond the height of land separating the Great Lakes from the fur country in the Northwest. See Canadian Canoe Routes (early). At one time there was a refitting station on the west end of the portage where canoes were repaired.
Voyageurs coming for the first time to the pays d'en haut were initiated after crossing the portage. Each newcomer would be sprinkled with a cedar bough dipped in water, and be made to swear that he would not allow another novice to pass that way without undergoing similar rites and that he would never kiss another voyageur's wife without her consent. Concluding the ceremony with a gunfire salute and drinks of "high wine" (a type of rum), the new Homme du nord or Nor'wester and his company would resume their journey.
Inclusion in international border 
Following the American Revolution the Treaty of Paris set the international boundary between British North America and the United States along the line of water communication between Lake Superior and the Lake of the Woods. During the era of exploration there were three principal routes used by canoe brigades to connect these two lakes, all of which crossed the divide separating western Lake Superior from the Hudson Bay watershed:
- the Grand Portage route to Rainy Lake, which used the portage described in this article;
- to the east, the Kam–Dog–Maligne route used by early French explorer Jacques de Noyon in 1688, which headed north from the lake at the site of Fort William, Ontario up the Kaministiquia and Dog Rivers to Cold Water Lake, crossed the divide by Prairie Portage to Height of Land Lake, then went west by way of the Savanne, Pickerel, and Maligne Rivers to Lake La Croix where it joined the Grand Portage route; and
- to the west, the St. Louis–Vermilion route, which went from Lake Superior at Fond du Lac (the "end of the lake") near modern Duluth, Minnesota, up the St. Louis and Embarrass Rivers, across the height of land (by a portage which also bears the name Height of Land Portage) to Pike River and Lake Vermilion, then down the Vermilion River to the Grand Portage route.
Britain asserted that the westernmost St. Louis-Vermilion route was the usual line of water communications, while the United States advocated the easternmost Kam–Dog–Maligne Route. Following surveys in the early Nineteenth Century, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 fixed the route along the Pigeon River and the Height of Land Portage between North and South Lakes.
Since then the portage has been recognized as part of the border. "Free and open to the use of the citizens and subjects of both countries", it continues in its historic use as a footpath for the overland transport of canoes across the divide separating the Great Lakes Basin from the Canadian northwest.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
- "Minnesota Statute § 138.57, subd. 13". Minnesota Revisor of Statutes. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
- "Topographic Map". The National Map. USGS via Microsoft Research Maps. 7 January 1986. Retrieved 13 May 2008.
- Kevin, Proescholdt (March 2007). Wilderness Between the Cracks: Where Motor Use and other Wilderness Violations have Degraded the Eastern Part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness ([dead link]). Friends of the Boundary Waters. pp. 4, 5. Retrieved 2007-02-26[dead link]. Photographs of boundary vista and illegal snowmobile use of adjacent portage trail, from report prepared for Izaak Walton League of America, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, and Wilderness Watch.
- Morse, Eric (1979). Fur Trade Routes of Canada. Minoqua, WI: NorthWord Press. pp. 71–75. ISBN 1-55971-045-4.
- Canada/United States International Boundary Commission (2006). "St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes" (pdf). Presentation at 2006 IBRU Conference, p. 21. Durham University. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
- Lass, William E. (1980). Minnesota's Boundary with Canada. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society. p. 111. ISBN 0-87351-153-0.
- Rook, Earl S.J. (2004). "BWCA Glossary "S"". A Boundary Waters Compendium. www.rook.org. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
- Rook, Earl S. J. (2004). "BWCA Glossary "W"". A Boundary Waters Compendium. www.rook.org. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
- Vogel, Robert C.; David G. Stanley (1992). "Portage Trails in Minnesota, 1630s-1870s" (pdf). Multiple Property Documentation Form. US Dept. of the Interior, Nat'l Park Service. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
- Delafield, Joseph; (Robert McElroy and Thomas Riggs, ed.) (1943). The Unfortified Boundary: A Diary of the first survey of the Canadian Boundary Line from St. Regis to the Lake of the Woods. New York. p. 408.
- Podruchny, Carolyn (June 2002). "Baptizing Novices: Ritual Moments among French Canadian Voyageurs in the Montreal Fur Trade, 1780-1821". Canadian Historical Review (University of Toronto Press, Journals Division) 83 (2): 165–95. doi:10.3138/CHR.83.2.165. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
- Nute, Grace Lee (1955). The Voyageur. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society. pp. 66–67. ISBN 0-87351-012-7.
- "Webster-Ashburton Treaty, Art. 2". Yale Law School. 1842. Retrieved 2008-05-13.