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Rendezvous Days Reenactment At Minnesota's Grand Portage National Monument

Updated on March 9, 2015
Rendezvous Days Reenactment
Rendezvous Days Reenactment | Source

Traveling Back In Time in the North Country

Each year on the first full weekend of August, National Park Service staff and hundreds of volunteers re-create a fun and very authentic Voyageur Rendezvous at the historic North West Company fur trade depot at Minnesota's Grand Portage National Monument.

The reenactment includes demonstrations and workshops by in-character craftsmen and women in the arts of blacksmithing, shoe-making, tinsmithing, basket-making and more, story-telling for the young and young-at-heart, waltz classes, tours of the historic encampment and so forth. These events, along with contests, scavenger hunts and games, help visitors learn about the life of 18th century traders, company clerks, and the native Ojibwe.

During our recent trip to the Boundary Waters and the surrounding area, Steve and I had no idea that the Rendezvous was going on but were excited to find a sea of canvas tents next to the Grand Portage palisade when we arrived at the Monument.

After experiencing the Rendezvous, which I'll share with you here, we plan to revisit the event when we paddle and portage our way along a 200-mile segment of the historic Voyageurs Route, ending at Grand Portage. What a fitting finale to the journey that would be, to arrive at the end of that 8.5-mile portage just as the fur traders did for the Rendezvous.

All photos were taken by me, Deb Kingsbury.

The Great Hall (right) at Grand Portage and the kitchen (left) out back

The Great Hall (right) at Grand Portage and the kitchen (left) out back
The Great Hall (right) at Grand Portage and the kitchen (left) out back

Behind the kitchen, there's an outdoor clay oven and vegetable gardens.

Behind the kitchen, there's an outdoor clay oven and vegetable gardens.
Behind the kitchen, there's an outdoor clay oven and vegetable gardens.
Grand Portage, Minnesota
Grand Portage, Minnesota

The Home of Rendezvous Days: Grand Portage National Monument

On the North Shore of Lake Superior

Grand Portage is the site of what was once the largest fur trade depot on the continent, operated from 1784 to 1803 by the North West Company. Sixteen buildings were located inside the palisade walls, including the Great Hall, which, though inactive most of the year, sprung to life when the fur traders arrived in late June for Rendezvous.

During the 29 years that Grand Portage operated, all trade goods headed to outposts in Canada were funneled through these inland headquarters. The cedar-picket palisade was designed, not for defense against attack, but as secure storage for the large inventories that were brought in. Visitors to the Monument can climb to the lookout tower for a view of the area, both inside and outside of the palisade, which is right on the shore of Lake Superior.

The Monument, located seven miles south of the U.S.-Canada border and 36 miles north of Grand Marais, Minnesota, features a heritage center, open year-round, with exhibits, information, audio-visual programs and a bookshop. The reconstructed depot looks much as it did in the 1700s, with historic buildings open daily, late May through October.

Visit the National Park Service's Grand Portage website.

An Ojibwe tee-pee and "three sisters" garden

An Ojibwe tee-pee and "three sisters" garden
An Ojibwe tee-pee and "three sisters" garden

A view from the lookout tower

A view from the lookout tower
A view from the lookout tower

Sailors at the dock at Grand Portage on Lake Superior

Sailors at the dock at Grand Portage on Lake Superior
Sailors at the dock at Grand Portage on Lake Superior
Rendezvous Days at Grand Portage National Monument
Rendezvous Days at Grand Portage National Monument

The Annual Rendezvous

A Grand Celebration at Grand Portage

In July, 1797, canoe brigades loaded with cloth, kettles, guns and food, transported over water and land by rugged voyageurs, arrived at Grand Portage after a three-month, 1000-mile journey from Montreal.

And Northmen with loads of 90-pound bundles of furs also arrived after their own three-month canoe journey from British Columbia. Both groups converged at Grand Portage, the home of British-owned North West Company, which was having one of its most profitable years.

The yearly Rendezvous that followed was not only a grand celebration but was also essential to business and reunited families and friends. Voyageurs, agents, company partners and native Ojibwe met to transfer company goods and have a grand old time before they set off again for another year.


Activities

During the annual Rendezvous re-enactment, regular admission fees to the National Monument are waived.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, workshops are offered to the public and participants. Some of the workshops are free, while others do have a small charge. Workshops this year included:

  • Cornhusk dolls/Voyageurs for Young'uns
  • Basket Making
  • Scottish Music and Haggis Making
  • Tinsmithing for kids
  • Making a Winnowing Basket
  • Making Your Own Dorsette Buttons
  • Basic Blacksmithing Techniques
  • The Art of Nautical Navigation
  • Making a Canvas Wall Bag
  • 18th Century Surveying Techniques
  • Material Culture of the Fur Trade
  • Standing Rigging "101"
  • Maritime Vessels of the Era

Find out more about Rendezvous Days, past and future, on the National Park Service website.

A paddle-maker in the old canoe warehouse

A paddle-maker in the old canoe warehouse
A paddle-maker in the old canoe warehouse

Read about the Canoe Warehouse

A blacksmith

A blacksmith
A blacksmith

A tinsmith

A tinsmith
A tinsmith

A shoe-maker

A shoe-maker
A shoe-maker

The Grand Portage Trail

Between Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters

Imagine walking 8.5 miles with two 90-pound packs on your back. That's what the Voyageurs did in a few hours' time when they traveled and transported their goods between the Grand Portage palisade on Lake Superior and Fort Charlotte, the North West Company's smaller storage depot on the Pigeon River.

The Grand Portage trail is still used today, open year-round to hikers, backpackers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers, as well as the few who still portage canoes along its rocky, rolling terrain.

The Grand Portage trail's eastern end is located right at the gate of the palisade.

You can read more about the Grand Portage trail and the history of those who used it at GORP.com.

A historic voyageur's encampment in the 21st century

A historic voyageur's encampment in the 21st century
A historic voyageur's encampment in the 21st century

A game of Lacrosse the 18th century way at Rendezvous Days

A game of Lacrosse the 18th century way at Rendezvous Days
A game of Lacrosse the 18th century way at Rendezvous Days
Rendezvous Days
Rendezvous Days

Taking a snooze during Rendezvous Days reenactment

Taking a snooze during Rendezvous Days reenactment
Taking a snooze during Rendezvous Days reenactment

A fresh catch smokes over the fire.

A fresh catch smokes over the fire.
A fresh catch smokes over the fire.

Read About The Voyageurs - ...and their annual rendezvous (or gatherings)

The Voyageur
The Voyageur

Originally published in 1931, this book explores the lives of the rugged French-Canadian canoe men, whose tireless efforts were essential to the fur trade in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Their influence still exists today through the songs, place names, customs and legends they left behind.

 

A French-accented Voyageur shows his birch-bark canoe to my husband. Voyageurs often covered 60-80 miles a day by canoe.

A French-accented Voyageur shows his birch-bark canoe to my husband. Voyageurs often covered 60-80 miles a day by canoe.
A French-accented Voyageur shows his birch-bark canoe to my husband. Voyageurs often covered 60-80 miles a day by canoe.

Voyageurs usually stored their gear and slept beneath oilcloth lashed to their upturned canoes.

Voyageurs usually stored their gear and slept beneath oilcloth lashed to their upturned canoes.
Voyageurs usually stored their gear and slept beneath oilcloth lashed to their upturned canoes.
Voyageurs heading to Grand Portage
Voyageurs heading to Grand Portage

The Voyageurs' Birchbark Canoes

The Voyageurs hauled tons of cargo in their birch bark canoes, invented by the area's Native Americans. The canoes used by Northmen, or "the winterers," in the Boundary Waters area were about 25 feet long and carried four to six men. Lake canoes were ten feet longer and carried as many as twelve "Montreal men" and up to 8,000 pounds of trade goods.

The lightweight but large canoes were made from sheets of birch bark, lashed with split spruce roots and lined with cedar planks and stabilizing ribbing. Spruce pitch was used to waterproof the seams, but no hardware was used.

The birch bark canoes were, however, easily punctured and required continual repair and care.

Retrace The Voyageurs' Historic Route - Which became part of the border between the U.S. and Canada

Portage Into The Past (Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage)
Portage Into The Past (Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage)

In 1958, author and nature photographer J. Arnold Bolz, his wife, Belva, and their friend, Harvi, carried their boat and gear from Lake Superior across the 8.5-mile Grand Portage trail and then paddled and portaged another 200 miles along the U.S./Canadian border to Rainy Lake near International Falls. Along the way, they read excerpts from old journals written by the fur traders about the places and portages they were passing through two centuries later.

 

Natural dyes and weaving demonstrated in the encampment

Natural dyes and weaving demonstrated in the encampment
Natural dyes and weaving demonstrated in the encampment

Heating up the clay oven to bake bread and pies

Heating up the clay oven to bake bread and pies
Heating up the clay oven to bake bread and pies

A Rendezvous Days Powwow

Adjacent to Grand Portage National Monument

Each year, as company partners and guests feasted and danced in the Great Hall at Grand Portage, the voyageurs and Native Americans had their own celebration, with the Ojibwe in ceremonial costumes and canoe men in their plumed caps, bright jackets and fringed sashes.

Nowadays, at the same time that the Rendezvous is going on, there's also a traditional Native American gathering at Grand Portage. The Grand Portage band of Minnesota Chippewa hold their annual pow-wow adjacent to the Monument. Visitors are welcome to attend -- to watch and even participate in the ceremonial dances.

At the pow-wow, there are lots of vendors displaying for sale a wide range of Native arts, crafts and food. This is a free event that includes a 1 and 3-mile walk/run, live music, and horseshoe and softball tournaments.

2015 Rendezvous Days and Powwow at Grand Portage

The 2015 reenactment and Powwow will take place Friday through Sunday, August 7-9.

Information and registration will be posted on the

Grand Portage NPS site.

© 2009 Deb Kingsbury

Have You Ever Been To Rendezvous Days or Another Reenactment? Questions and comments are welcome.

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    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 7 years ago from La Verne, CA

      I want to see this and go to Boundary Waters, MN. Lucky you and hubby. Very good and attractive lens. The pictures are wonderful.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 7 years ago from USA

      Very nice!

    • Holley Web profile image

      Holley Web 7 years ago

      I have always loved the reenactment days in different areas. This looks like it was not only entertaining but filled with things to learn!

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 7 years ago

      Very cool!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Very interesting! Lucky for you, you showed up on the right day! I like how that happens sometimes :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This was so much fun. We're so lucky it was going on when we happened to be there. It was really inspiring.

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 7 years ago from Croatia

      And congrats on that puple star I see here! WooHoo!

    • andreaberrios lm profile image

      andreaberrios lm 7 years ago

      Beautiful pictures, this is a very nice lens! Well done... Congrats on your purple star ;)

    • groovyfind profile image

      Samantha Devereux 7 years ago from Columbia Mo

      Very cool, thanks for sharing!

    • triathlontraini1 profile image

      triathlontraini1 7 years ago

      Wonderful lens!

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 7 years ago

      Just had to come back to say...Blessed!

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 7 years ago

      I'm so happy for you that your lens got picked up for 2009 Giant Squid Awards! Congratulations! As usual, you did a great job on a lens and well deserve this nomination!

      Wishing you to get the top!

      Dom.

    • eccles1 profile image

      eccles1 7 years ago

      Minnesota is beautiful and very cold they also have the best fall

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 7 years ago

      No, this sounds like a very interesting re-enactment. And you've captured it beautifully with your photographs. Congrats on your nomination!

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 7 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      Wonderful Lens. Love all your photos and information. We have been to Louisbourg Fortress in Nova Scotia but not to Grand Portage. Have to put it on on our Travel List. Congratulations on your Purple Star and Giant Squid Awards Nomination! Happy Holidays!

    • JanieceTobey profile image

      JanieceTobey 7 years ago

      I've never been to this Reenactment before, but I've been to others, and always enjoy them! Wish I could visit this one as well! Very nice lens!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This is marvelous--I've been meaning to get here for some time and just discover it again for Giant Squid Award voting--so I better get back over there. I have injoyed a few reenactments in the past, but you have sold me on this. That birchbark teepee would make Susie wild! As always, this has your special presence bestowed throughout as you draw the reader into the experience!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Congratulations on getting the largest percentage of votes on the Giant Squid Awards. This is a super lens by a super lensmaster.

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