15 February 2005

Height of Land

The portage between South and North lakes in the eastern BWCA may not appear out of the ordinary, but it marks a hydrologic feature as impressive as the Rocky Mountains. Running ENE-WSW through the Boundary Waters, the Laurentian Divide separates the watersheds of the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, and the Atlantic to the east from those of Hudson Bay to the north. Futher west, the Laurentian Divide separates the Mississippi River and Hudson Bay drainages. The French-Canadian Voyageurs of the 18th and 19th centuries marked the occasion of crossing Height of Land with a ceremony:
The novice took off his hat, and knelt. The oldest guide present, probably thirty years of age, cut off a stout cedar bough, and dipped it in the water. He lashed the initiate until he was drenched to the skin, and then in French, the language of the fur-trade, administered the oath. It required two promises, one, on his honour never to permit a new-comer to pass over the height of land without a similar ceremony, and second, never to kiss another voyageur’s wife without her consent. A cheer, a burst of gunfire and a toast highlighted the occasion. From that moment he was entitled to make the boast that commanded respect "Je suis un homme du Nord." "I am a man of the North."

Very fun.