Canoe Country Wilderness Canoeing
by © Lee Hegstrand


A Note on the History of the Region

The Canoe Country is rich in history and, in small part, because of this the area was designated for wilderness canoe travel. Prior to the coming of white men the Sioux and Ojibwa battled over the rich fish and wild rice resources of the region. The French came to exploit the fur resources in the late seventeenth century using the waters now forming the U.S. and Canadian border. During the British era the famous Northwest Fur Company eventually dominated the fur trade of the region with the company's wilderness headquarters located at Grand Portage, Minnesota. Some of these old Northwest fort facilities have been restored as a National Historical Monument and are worth a visit.

A half century after the fur trade era, beginning in the mid-1890's, lumbering interests commenced to log much of the Canoe Country. The interior of the BWCAW still has large areas of virgin forests, however.

Quetico ranger's cabinSoon after the great saw timber lumbering era ended in the early twentieth century a battle began in the BWCAW to salvage and foster what wilderness character that remained against the growing resort and fly-in business, road building efforts, mining and pulp-wood lumbering interests. Thanks to the efforts of many conservation organizations and individuals who loved this land it was slowly, with great battles forcing begrudging compromises on both sides, given the legislative protections we have today.

We must not become complacent however since the struggle continues, with many people living in the area still pushing for more motorized use of the region. This continuing battle is primarily an offshoot of the compromises built into the BWCAW - while it is officially part of the wilderness system as defined by the Wilderness Act of 1964, large portions of the BWCAW are still open to motorized boats, including parts of the Basswood, Lac La Croix and Saganaga Lake and the entire Moose Lake route to the border. Those seeking solitude might want to consider this when planning their trips.

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