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History and Culture

Susan Dykstra

People have inhabited the Heart of the Continent for more than 11,000 years, ever since the last Ice Age. First came nomadic hunter-gathers, the Paleo-Indians, followed over the millennia by other First Nations people.

By the seventeenth century the Ojibwa had arrived and greeted the French fur-traders, the region’s first known Europeans. In late 1700s, the fur-trading Montreal-based North West Company established its inland headquarters at Grand Portage (Minnesota) on Lake Superior’s western shores, then moving it in the early 1800s to Fort William, the present-day site of City of Thunder Bay. From here, their canoe brigades travelled west on ancient Aboriginal water-highways establishing fur posts along the way.

To experience the heyday of the fur trade, visitors can time-travel back to 1815 at Fort William Historical Park, a huge reconstructed fur trade post. The site features forty-six reconstructed historic buildings, an Ojibwa encampment, and an astronomical observatory.

In the late 1800s, when the mining, forestry and grain industries brought in boom times, workers and their families from around the world began streaming to the region for jobs and homesteads. Together with the First Nations and Métis, they laid the nation-building blocks for the region.

-Elle Andra-Warner, author of The Edmund Fitzgerald: The Legendary Great Lakes Shipwreck

“On November 10, 1975, the 729-foot iron ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald sank in a ferocious Lake Superior storm, taking all 29 of her crew to the bottom. Each November 10, a ceremony is held at Split Rock Lighthouse to remember those sailors who never made it home. A ship’s bell tolls 29 times, once for each member of the Fitzgerald crew. A final, thirtieth toll is sounded for all of the other victims of storms and shipwrecks on Lake Superior.”

-Lee Radzak, Historic Site Manager, Split Rock Lighthouse

“There are more than 11,000 years of human history in Quetico but only the last 330 years includes non-Native people. The stewardship of Native People over the first 97 per cent of our history is the primary reason we have the rich natural environment found in the Quetico-Superior area.”

-Jon Nelson, Archaeologist and Author of Quetico: Near to Nature’s Heart