Friday, 4 November 2011

Methye Portage/Portage La Loche

"Vale of the Clearwater River from the Methye Portage" An 1828 etching based on Sir George Back's 1825 watercolor.

The Portage starts on Lac La Loche and ends at the
Clearwater River.
History of the Portage.

For over a hundred years Portage La Loche was part of a world wide trade in furs. From 1778 fur traders of the North West Company then with the Hudson's Bay Company came through the Portage. It was the longest single portage at 19 kilometers and the most difficult. 

Every year brigades from the Red River Settlement, the Athabasca and the Mackenzie would come to the Portage. 
At times over 400 people were camped at the start of the trail with more camped at Rendezvous Lake and on the Clearwater River. 

"Then, especially in summer, Portage La Loche presented an aspect of a veritable Babel. 
It was, in effect,  the great route of transport of the Hudson's Bay Company to bring merchandise into the north and to bring out their furs. The boats arrived in many flotillas
at the two opposite extremeties of the portage, and they disembarked, with cases and bales of all kinds, a population so mixed its impossible to imagine:  whites from all the nations of Europe, metis of all kinds,  natives from all the tribes, met and elbowed each other, and did every other thing except edify themselves.................."
.........wrote Father Penard of the La Loche Mission in 1895 (translation).
The residents of Lac La Loche would live in tents near the Portage for this yearly event and many were hired to carry the bags, boxes and kegs to different places on the trail. 
They also provided fresh meat and fish to the brigades.               
After a few weeks or so the brigades were gone to return again next year and the residents 
of La Loche returned to their homes on the lake.

Portage La Loche after 1883

The Hudson's Bay Company started using another route in 1883 for the bulk of their freight.
This was a disaster for the residents of Lac La Loche. The seasonal work at the Portage was an important source of income. Some had been employed to keep the trails clear while others
kept animals for hire. 
Perhaps most of all the residents missed their friends who no longer came. 

The Portage became a minor route for decades then was abandoned. The villages of the 
Upper Churchill became isolated. There was very little interaction with the outside world.
This isolation remained until roads were built from the 1940's to the 1970's.

The HBC continued to purchase furs till they sold their stores in 1987.
They had been on Lac La Loche since 1810. A total of 177 years.

The trail used by the  Portage La Loche and Athabasca fur brigades is still there.  

At the entrance of the Portage a cairn has been erected declaring the Portage a National Historic Site. 
The area of the Portage is now part of the Clearwater River Provincial Park.

A section of Sir John Franklin's map of 1819-1820.
Note: Franklin portaged his canoes twice on the Methye River.
....view Franklin's Map

Place names on the Portage

Portage La Loche or Methye Portage was also known as the Long Portage or the Great Portage.
It is 19 kilometers long, the longest of the portages.
Names were given to different locations on the trail by the fur brigades.
Below starting from the south end are some of the names in French and their translation.

These resting places were measured in paces wrote Sir John Richardson in 1848.
From the Tail of La Loche to Little Old Man the distance was 2557 paces. Another 3171 paces led to Fountain of Sand and so on.

The total number of paces from the Tail of La Loche to The Meadow is 24,593 or 1294 paces per kilometer. 
Most of these resting places on the Portage have not yet been identified. 
Under ideal conditions 19 kilometers is walked at an easy pace in about 4 hours.
....view 1908 photos of the Portage

....table made by RD Laloche.

Two youtube videos showing scenes of the Clearwater River and the Portage. 

Walking distance calculator
10.627 min.10 min.12.5 min.
21.2414 min.20 min.25 min.
31.8621 min.30 min.37.5 min.
42.4828 min.40 min.50 min.
53.1135 min.50 min.62.5 min.
63.7342 min.60 min.75 min.
74.3549 min.70 min.87.5 min.
84.9756 min.80 min.100 min.
95.5963 min.90 min.112.5 min.
106.2170 min.100 min.125 min.
116.8377 min.110 min.137.5 min.
127.4584 min.120 min.150 min.
138.0791 min.130 min.162.5 min.
148.6998 min.140 min.175 min.
159.32105 min.150 min.187.5 min.
169.94112 min.160 min.200 min.
1710.56119 min.170 min.212.5 min.
1811.18126 min.180 min.225 min.
1911.80133 min.190 min.237.5 min.
2012.42140 min.200 min.250 min.
view...........Photos of the Portage.

The blue line is a paved road and the grey lines are gravel roads. The areas in red belong to Canada's
First Nations. These are all of the Dene Nation.