The Voyageur’s Story – part III

The following article was written by Wilma Gilman in the early 1970s as a promotional piece for the Crane Lake Commercial Club. It gives a brief history of the Crane Lake area. The CB radio is still used to this day as a means of communication up the lake.

In 1921, the State Forester, Mr. Cox, asked Charles Gilman to make a recreational survey from Lake of the Woods to Grand Portage, to determine what section of the boundary lakes was the most feasible for canoeists. Mr. Gilman made the survey in four separate trips, with his wife paddling in the bow of their 15 foot Oldtown canoe, which in many ways resembled the Indian birchbark canoes. The survey proved the choice waterway was from Crane Lake to Ely, and vice versa. 1921 was also a prohibition year, and a small band of bootleggers living in a cabin on Mukooda Lake portage, ran liquor from Fort Francis to Crane Lake, and thence to American customers.

The voyageurs of today, the thousands who travel many miles to enjoy this great wilderness area, must pay tribute, not only to LeVerendyre and all the rest who first opened this country, but to those who more recently had a hand in conserving the area…the resort owners, conservation organizations, local, state, and national. After the lumber pirates were foiled, one more thing had to be done that took years of work by John Handberg and other outstanding conservationists…to get a fixed level of the Namakan watershed. Eventually, after many meetings, it was decreed that the dams on these lake be regulated by the Rule Curve method, to prevent extremes of high and low water, that had formerly killed much timber and wildlife; and this method is still in effect. In 1914, John and Millie Nelson made a canoe trip through this area, but it was not until 1930, that they bought their present location and started Nelson’s Resort. The 1921 Shipstead-Nolan investigations had advertised this area, and a trickle of visitors came; but the real influx of peoples came after the depression of the 30’s and the end of World War II, and more resorts came into being in this area.

In these days of pollution, it is a delight to be able to breathe the fresh, pure air in this area, and to dip pure water as your boat skims along, The canvas canoe and wood rowboat, have been replaced by the motorboat, cruiser and houseboat. The number of airplanes has increased (outside the BWCA), bringing people to enjoy this northern paradise; and roads have been upgraded, which makes that type travel more popular. Those lucky enough to have been at the Crane Lake Festival (Voyageur Day) in 1967, saw the ten huge Canadian Voyageur canoes, manned by ten men each, when they stopped en route from Rocky Mountain House in Alberta, Canada, to Montreal, a total of 3,283 miles of paddling; a vivid reminder of the old voyageurs’ travels, and to view the water rushing through the Crane Lake Gorge, an unforgettable experience. Until the last few years, all Crane Lake resorts were operated on a seasonal basis, from May to November, but now the snowmobile has added a new dimension for winter enjoyment of these lakes and woods, and some resorts now have a year-round operation.

Instant communication has also come to this lake area via the Citizen’s Band radio, which jumps space with the speed of light, transmitting information from resort to resort; from cabin to boat, for emergencies and for friendly gossip during winter hours. A cabin owner had a guest (on Sandpoint Lake), who had a heart attack and his radio call brought a seaplane to his dock and in less than 20 minutes the stricken man was on his way to the Cook Hospital, just minutes away. Thus modern technology speeds and extends the spirit of helpfulness, that has always been a notable characteristic of the people who live on theses lakes.

The Crane Lake Commercial Club, organized on March 24, 1931, was formed to “represent the community and work for the welfare and development of the community as a whole.

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1 Response to The Voyageur’s Story – part III

  1. Carrie Hansen says:

    Thanks so much for posting this interesting essay. I have not been to Crane Lake for many years, but this blog and the visitcranelake web site bring back many happy memories for me of fishing vacations with my mom and dad. I do miss it.

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