Published: Jan 06, 2016

Whitewater Rafting Duluth, Minnesota: Cultural History of the St. Louis River

Whitewater rafting Duluth MinnesotaThe St. Louis River is the largest U.S. tributary to Lake Superior, coursing some 180 miles from its headwaters in the Superior National Forest before to its confluence with the big lake. The Louis is rich in cultural history, so much so that volumes of work exist on the topic from historians to logging outfits to the oral history of the Ojibwe that this blog only attempts to serve as a brief introduction. It is something that can be experienced when whitewater rafting in Duluth, Minnesota.

It is likely that the St. Louis River received its name from the vigorous French explorer Sir de La Verendrye, whom explored much of the region in the early 18th century. For his exploits the King of France awarded La Verendrye the Cross of St. Louis, from which the river received its name.

The river already had a name long before Europeans arrived. The Ojibwe called the river Gichigami-ziibi, which means Great Lake-River, likely because it is the largest river in the United States that flows into Lake Superior, which the Ojibwe call Gitchi-Gami. Sometimes it is easy to imagine what the river looked like centuries ago as the section we raft is not developed, so whitewater rafting while in Duluth, Minnesota you can have a wilderness adventure for the day.

The Ojibwe, whom call themselves Anishinaabeg, live in a rich and bountiful land. Within the St. Louis River watershed are all the resources needed for survival. In the past and in the present, paper birch, ash, and basswood supplied materials for wigwams and lodges, baskets, and canoes. From the sugar maple comes precious sap to flavor foods. From the forests and waters fish and game, and from the river and lakes wild rice, a staple of the Ojibwe people.

The Ojibwe would migrate to seasonal camps with in the St. Louis River watershed. March, the Crusted Snowmoon, was time to head to the sugar bush camps to tap maple trees for their sweet sap. Summer camps were often along bodies of water, such as the St. Louis River and neighboring lakes, where the fishing was good.

When the French came to the north woods seeking furs to meet the demand of high fashion in Europe they entered a business agreement with the Ojibwe. The fur trade thrived in this area for almost two centuries. The Ojibwe trapped beavers and other fur bearing animals and traded their pelts for goods. The Voyageurs, typically French Canadians, transported the pelts through a system of trading posts throughout the North Woods. The St. Louis River played a crucial role in linking Lake Superior to trading posts on the Mississippi River and Lake Vermilion.

As always, fashion is fickle and the days of the beaver hat were over as silk took its place, ending the fur trade.

In the Late 1880s to early 1900s logging was at its apex in northeastern Minnesota. In 1898 a paper mill was built on the banks of the St. Louis River, it would eventually become Potlach then SAPPI, the current paper mill upstream of where we raft. Today, SAPPI works with Western Lake Sanitary District to meet and exceed water quality standards for the St. Louis River.

Today, the Minnesota-Department of Natural Resources, Fond du Lac Reservation, and other organizations, such as the St. Louis River-River Watch, are actively involved in the conservation and management of natural resources within the St. Louis River watershed.

So if you feel like whitewater rafting while in Duluth, Minnesota and want to experience history and adventure give us a call. Let’s go rafting!

Category(s): Blog Posts