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Rendezvous Days Reenactment at Minnesota's Grand Portage National Monument

Updated on August 29, 2018
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I've lived in Flagstaff since 2003, where I'm an active member of the Coconino County Sheriff's Search & Rescue team.

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

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 game of Lacrosse the 18th century way at Rendezvous Days

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.

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

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

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.

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.

2019 Rendezvous Days and Powwow at Grand Portage

The next reenactment and Powwow will take place in August 2019.

Information and registration will be posted on the Grand Portage NPS site:

http://www.nps.gov/grpo/planyourvisit/special_events.htm

© 2009 Deb Kingsbury

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

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    • profile image

      Lynn Klobuchar 

      4 years ago

      Yes. Grew up in Duluth and took the trip "up the shore" many times.

    • madoc profile image

      madoc 

      5 years ago

      A nice way to round out summer before back-to-school, butmaybe you need to make reservations in April!

    • profile image

      dellgirl 

      5 years ago

      This is interesting! I wasn't aware of Rendezvous Days before reading this informative article. Your photos are amazing, I love them. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      DebMartin 

      5 years ago

      This is something I'd very much enjoy doing.

    • GypsyPirate LM profile image

      GypsyPirate LM 

      6 years ago

      No, I've never been to this celebration. But now that I have read your wonderful account of it, I am simply chomping at the bit wanting to find a way to go there and see it all and participate! Thank you so much for sharing this awesome lens!!

    • firstcookbooklady profile image

      Char Milbrett 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      I may have.. I used to live in Grand Marais, but that was 40 years ago.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      I have never been to the the Rendezvous, but I have been to Grand Portage and that was so interesting. I may have to go back for the Rendezvous.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      Totally cool! This lens is so nicely done Deb, pictures are amazing!

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image

      squid-pinkchic18 

      8 years ago

      What a wonderful lens! I haven't ever been to a reenactment but it seems to be pretty fun! I featured your lens on my lens titled The New Alpine Coaster in Duluth, MN.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      this sounds kind of fun has anyone ever been there if so reply and tell me what it's like

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      say something about flatlanders, and throw them for a loop...

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 

      8 years ago from California

      Oh I so want to go there....this was great *Blessed* by an Angel

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 

      8 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      Congratulations on your well-deserved 2009 Giant Squid Award! Happy New Year 2010! :)

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 

      8 years ago from La Verne, CA

      Love your report on this. And the photos too. Looks like a fun relaxing day.

    • sittonbull profile image

      sittonbull 

      8 years ago

      Congratulations Deb on your GSA for this neat lens. As a great admirer of the pioneers and trappers, I have read extensively about them... wish I could have been there for the rendezvous party!

    • Laniann profile image

      Laniann 

      8 years ago

      Congratulations, on being selected as one of the 2009 Giant Squid Award Winners for your lens on Rendezvous Days At Minnesota's Grand Portage National Monument.

    • purpleladymom profile image

      purpleladymom 

      8 years ago

      Thanks for visiting my lens http://www.squidoo.com/Fort_St_Joseph_Niles_MI. After you visited I noticed that some of my Flickr pictures were not working. I have now fixed it. Please go back and check them out. I am also lensrolling your lens to mine about Fort St. Joseph. Great job here! 5 Stars for sure!!!

    • profile image

      GrowWear 

      8 years ago

      Congratulations for Rendezvous Days At Minnesota's Grand Portage National Monument, 2009 Best Local Lens!

    • nebby profile image

      nebby 

      8 years ago from USA

      Congratulations on your Giant Squid Award! Rendezvous Days sounds like an even I'd like to attend. Wonderful photos and information.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      Congratulations on winning the 2009 Giant Squid Award. Spreading a little Angel dust your way.

    • Teddi14 LM profile image

      Teddi14 LM 

      8 years ago

      Yes I have attended a number of living history villages, rendezvous, and re-enactments. My mom is a re-enactor for the period of the 18th century. I helped her make a lens about the Fort St. Joseph near where they hold their rendezvous. They have actually begun an archaeological dig at the Fort's site. Pretty cool stuff. Here is her lens: Archaeologists discover Fort Saint Joseph in Niles, MI Congrats on your lens getting awarded! 5*'s

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      Hi Deb! ~ You must be about as tickled as can be for winning the Giant Squid Award..

      This is such a wonderful time visiting here. There is a real good feeling I get.

      Congratulations, well deserved and I'm very proud of your successes!!!

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year... x

    • profile image

      Joan4 

      8 years ago

      Congratulations on winning the Giant Squid Awards! This is a super lens!

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 

      8 years ago from New Zealand

      Congratulations on winning the Giant Squid awards! Great lens.

    • profile image

      bdkz 

      8 years ago

      Congratulations on winning the 2009 Giant Squid Awards! http://www.squidoo.com/2009-giant-squid-award-winn...

    • Ramkitten2000 profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Kingsbury 

      8 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      @bdkz: Thanks!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      8 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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 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!

    • JanieceTobey profile image

      JanieceTobey 

      8 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!!

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 

      8 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!

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 

      9 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      9 years ago

      I am so glad I seen this title and just had to see the lens. It should have been no surprise to see that you are the one that created this great lens. Once again my hat is off to you, I truly enjoyed this visit to Grand Portage through your eyes and heart. It will be getting featured, I love it! Thanks for sharing...

      Blessing coming! ~ Susie

    • eccles1 profile image

      eccles1 

      9 years ago

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

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 

      9 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.

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 

      9 years ago

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

    • triathlontraini1 profile image

      triathlontraini1 

      9 years ago

      Wonderful lens!

    • groovyfind profile image

      Samantha Devereux 

      9 years ago from Columbia Mo

      Very cool, thanks for sharing!

    • andreaberrios lm profile image

      andreaberrios lm 

      9 years ago

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

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 

      9 years ago from Croatia

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

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 

      9 years ago from Croatia

      Wonderful lens! You're making me green for not being there! You had sooo much fun! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      9 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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      9 years ago

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

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 

      9 years ago

      Very cool!

    • Holley Web profile image

      Holley Web 

      9 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!

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 

      9 years ago from USA

      Very nice!

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 

      9 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.

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