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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
La Pointe in Ashland County, Wisconsin — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
 

Early Vessels

Wisconsin's Maritime Trails

 
 
Early Vessels Marker image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, June 17, 2012
1. Early Vessels Marker
Inscription. Native American canoes launched North America’s maritime legacy about 12,000 years ago, making them among the world’s oldest watercraft.

The origins of the birchbark canoe are told in the oral traditions of the Ojibwe people. The spirit Winneboujou was searching for his mother. He did not know that she had become a spirit to be with his father, the West Wind. Winneboujou was told that a large fish swallowed his mother while she was walking along Lake Superior. He walked along the shore, weeping that he could not swim far enough to search for the fish. Four trees, the White Birch, Black Spruce, White Ash, and White Cedar, heard him weeping and pitied him. They showed him how to use their wood, bark, and roots to fashion a canoe to carry him on the lake and search for his mother.

Native American canoes were efficient and well suited for traveling and gathering food along Wisconsin's lakes and rivers. Europeans quickly recognized the utility of the birchbark canoes and used them to build the Great Lakes fur trade and to explore deep into the territory that became Wisconsin. The fourteen passenger “Montreal Canoe,” which carried four tons, became common on the Great Lakes and larger rivers. Smaller canoes were used on smaller waterways.

To make a canoe, a sturdy interior frame of cedar edges,
Early Vessels Marker image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, June 17, 2012
2. Early Vessels Marker
ribs, and planking was constructed first. Then a birchbark covering was stitched together and attached to the frame with fibers made from spruce or pine roots. The seams were sealed with spruce or pine gum.

“It is no small labor to make a canoe, in which there is much symmetry and measurement; and it is a curious sight.” - Jacques Sabrevois de Bleury, French commandant in Detroit, 1714

Madeline Island became a center of commerce in the 1600s, when the Ojibwe began encountering traders from near and far. Other Native Americans, French, English, Americans, and Metis (people of mixed ancestry) paddled to Madeline Island from Montreal and the Straits of Mackinaw in the East and from the inland waterways of the West. The island supported a variety of Native American villages, Ojibwe burial grounds, and European and American trading posts. To this day, Madeline Island remains an important part of the cultural landscape for Wisconsin’s Native tribes.
 
Erected by Wisconsin Historical Society, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute.
 
Marker series. This marker is included in the Wisconsin’s Maritime Trails marker series.
 
Location. 46° 46.523′ N, 90° 47.021′ W. Marker is in La Pointe, Wisconsin, in Ashland
Photo upper left image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, June 17, 2012
3. Photo upper left
Prow support in the Ojibwe birchbark, known as a man-board. Wisconsin Historical Society Standard Collections #1954.200 WHS photo by Tamara Thomsen
County. Marker is on Fort Road half a mile south of Ferry Dock, on the right when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is located in Memorial Park. Marker is in this post office area: La Pointe WI 54850, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 9 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Madeline Island (approx. 0.4 miles away); A Turning Point in Place and Time (approx. 2.7 miles away); Schooner Pretoria (approx. 2.7 miles away); Memorial to Commercial Fishermen of Bayfield (approx. 2.9 miles away); The Booth Cooperage (approx. 2.9 miles away); Bayfield Historic Waterfront (approx. 2.9 miles away); a different marker also named Madeline Island (approx. 5.6 miles away); Washburn, The Monolith City (approx. 8.7 miles away).
 
Also see . . .  Wisconsin's Maritime Trails. Wisconsin Historical Society (Submitted on July 26, 2012, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.) 
 
Categories. ExplorationNative AmericansSettlements & SettlersWaterways & Vessels
 
Photo middle left image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, June 17, 2012
4. Photo middle left
“Such a canoe… is altogether one of the most eligible modes of conveyance that can be employed upon the lakes, while in the interior of the northwest – for river navigation, where there are many rapids and portages, nothing that has been contrived to float upon water offers an adequate substitute.” - Henry Schoolcraft, Indian agent and ethnologist, 1821.

“View 18 miles above Prairie du Chien,” painting by Seth Eastman, 1846. Image courtesy of W. Duncan and Nivin MacMillan and Afton Historical Society Press.
Photo upper right image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, June 17, 2012
5. Photo upper right
Birchbark canoe made and used in the 1930s by Joe Johnson, canoe maker of the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe. Wisconsin Historical Society Standard Collections #1954.200 WHS photo by Tamara Thomsen
Lower right photo image. Click for full size.
By Paul Fehrenbach, June 17, 2012
6. Lower right photo
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on July 25, 2012, by Paul Fehrenbach of Germantown, Wisconsin. This page has been viewed 543 times since then and 44 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on July 25, 2012, by Paul Fehrenbach of Germantown, Wisconsin. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
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