Sunday, July 31, 2016


A simple stone cairn lies not far from the Clearwater River commemorating what was once a vitally important link in Canada's cross-country transportation system. While having long been rendered obsolete by road, rail and air, the Methye Portage (also known as the Portage La Loche) played a key role as the link between the Athabasca River and Lake Winnipeg.  At a length of around 19km (12 miles) it the longest of the portages used in the cross-country fur-trading network, and certainly one of the most challenging.

Credit for the discovery of the portage goes to explorer Peter Pond (though certainly the local First Nations knew about the route long before Pond showed up on the scene.)  In any event, the route was only used for a very short period of time, from 1778 until 1883 when steamboats started plying the waters of the Athabasca, making this overland route obsolete.  Nevertheless, its importance remains and it was officially recognized by being appointed a National Historic Site in 1933.  The Clearwater River has been a Canadian Heritage River since 1986.  

I have a unique "claim to fame" here as I have lived in communities on either side of this portage having lived in Lac La Loche in the early 2000's and now here in Fort McMurray so I've been able to see it from both ends, or at least the communities that contained the trading posts that the portage connected.

I've seen the Clearwater from the Saskatchewan side of the border where it runs a little faster and with less meanders.  The route today is travelled mainly by adventurous canoeists and backpackers and I know there is a pretty scenic little canyon just to the east of the provincial border if I recall correctly.  I've only ever seen photos and stand envious of those who have seen the real deal.  

Aside from a few adventure seekers, the portage remains today a pretty isolated area, not very well known to the larger public and not often travelled. but it is certainly deserving of being recognized for the role it has played in the shaping or our history.

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