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…”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.