ArticlesTrip Reports

The Paddles of Walter Caribou

Paddles of Walter Caribou

Grand Portage National Monument in Grand Portage, Minn. marks the lower terminus of the 8-mile Grand Portage used by fur-trading voyagers to transport trade goods and furs from the Pigeon River to Lake Superior. The current fort is a reconstruction of the original fort. Inside the stockade, there’s a display of paddles built by Walter Caribou, a Ojibwe, who lived in Grand Portage. Caribou was known as a great storyteller and a good paddle maker. In the above picture, the paddles from the left going clockwise are labeled:

  1. Ladies Paddle
  2. Middleman Paddle
  3. Francis Anne Hopkins painting “Canoe Shooting Rapids” paddle.
  4. U.S.A. Paddle
  5. “Rendezvous Awards” Paddle
  6. Ladies Paddle.
  7. Cribbage board
  8. “Distressed” paddle
  9. U.S.A. Voyageurs Paddle
  10. Wild Ricing Sticks
  11. Crossed “gift” paddles

In addition to the great paddles on display, the fort is full of birchbark canoes. At points, someone may even be building one. Historic reenactors and park service interpretors tell the history of the fur trade and give a glimpse into the romanticized lifestyle — it wasn’t a picnic. The second weekend of every August Grand Portage hosts Rendezvous Days and Pow Wow celebration. During the event, reenactors set up a large voyager village and live as the voyagers would have during the fur trade. The Grand Portage tribe puts on the Pow Wow. If you love canoes and the fur trade culture, then it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event and great place to visit. Did I mention the best fry bread ever. Loads of pictures below.

Subscribe! Get PaddlingLight in your inbox. Enter your email address:


  • Hudson Bay Snuggies? :-)

    I love that place…it oozes history. I wonder if they’d let a guy take some lines off some of Walter’s paddles. Any idea? I’d love to carve some of those patterns.

  • Nice article. I really gotta visit that place. and of course, do the fry bread.

  • Mmmm…. Fry bread.

    Darren – I bet they’d let you. Ilena has a friend that works there, so there’s always that connection.

  • Bryan – Thanks for writing this article! I remember Walter, and bought one of his paddles in 1991 when I was at Grand Portage photographing the Little Cedar Tree Spirit on Hat Point. I’ve used it a few times, and it’s light as a feather. He signed this one “Walter Caribou, Grande Portage MN, 1991 55605” in blue ballpoint pen.

    • You’re welcome. Do you have a picture on your paddle? I’d love to add it to the article.

Comments are closed.