We finally know where Gitche Gumee is, and it took us a long time to stand on its shores.
We had to memorize lines from (important? American?) poetry in grade school. One of the few that we (vaguely) remember is “TheSong of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written in 1855.
“By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water…”
Gitchi-Gami is the Ojibwe (Chippewa) name for Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area.
When we planned our road trip from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, we thought looping up and over Lake Superior could be a great drive.
Our first view of Lake Superior was in Duluth, Minnesota. We took 8 days to explore the shore in both Minnesota in the US and Ontario in Canada. We visited small towns along the way, hiked in parks, ate walleye fish, and hunted for agates on the rocky beaches.
Our stop in Wawa, Ontario included a visit to Young’s General Store and a photo op.
We stopped at numerous parks along the way, and one of our favorites was Lake Superior Provincial Park.
We drove for miles and miles (and then more miles) through Canada’s two largest forests – the Great Lakes/St Lawrence forest with both coniferous and deciduous trees (including birch) and the Boreal forest, mainly coniferous.
The bark of the birch tree is waterproof so it was used by Native Americans for making baskets, papering houses and canoes, and even maps.
We searched every chance we got for an agate. We never found anything even close. The signs at all the parks in Canada politely remind visitors to enjoy what they have seen, but to please leave the wildflowers, the plants, and the lovely rocks where you found them.
We took a long walk down a beach at Lake Superior Provincial Park and collected our favorite rocks. No agates among them. To remember our favorites, we took their photo, and then left them on the beach.
It took us 7 days to drive from the western edge of Lake Superior to the eastern edge at Sault-Ste.-Marie, Ontario (known as “Soo” to the locals). We celebrated when we arrived by going down to the water’s edge on the Canadian side to see the locks allowing pleasure boats to get from the eastern waterways through the St Mary’s River to Lake Superior.
We inspected the Canadian lock used in emergencies if the other locks failed. It was needed once, and it did the job. Since then, it’s been retired. Above the lock is the Sault-Ste-Marie Bridge connecting Canada and the U.S.
We walked over the lock and crossed small bridges to Whitefish Island, the outermost Canadian island in the river. Native People used the island for 2,000 years as fishing grounds. Despite a treaty in 1850 that gave them the rights to the land, when plans for the canal moved forward and then later a railroad, the land was taken by the government. “A land claim was filed in 1982 by the Batchewana Indian Band, of the Batchewana First Nation of Ojibways, for the 22-acre (89,000 m2) island. After years of unsuccessful negotiations, hereditary Chief Edward James Sayers Nebenaigoching occupied the island from 1989 until the claim was settled in 1992. 3.5 million dollars in damages were paid to the tribe, and the island was returned to Indian reserve status in 1997.”
Whitefish Island has open walking trails, and it was there that we discovered the tame black-capped chickadees.
As we walked back across St Mary’s Island, we saw beaver dams and lodges, and scores of mallard ducks.
We started our trip around Gitche Gumee (Lake Superior) with thoughts of the “Hiawatha” poem and of the Indians who lived by the shore. We ended our long drive with the sad story of the long struggle for Indians to regain even a small island by the shining Big-Sea-Water.