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History/Lake of the Woods
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Steamships Ruled the Lake
The Dawson Trail was eclipsed as a transport route west in the 1880’s when the railway linking Canada’s east and west included a stop at Rat Portage, on the north shore of Lake of the Woods. As more settlers came to the region, industry and transportation development flourished. The fur trade had given way to timber harvesting, commercial fisheries and a short-lived search for gold and other metals.


To move people and goods around the Lake of the Woods, several steamships took over the lake, running between Baudette, Minnesota, Rat Portage, Northwest Angle, Fort Frances and ports along the Rainy River. The Canadian government commissioned the steamer Lady of the Lake, just one of 21 steamships estimated to be traveling the lake by 1890.

By the early 1920’s, steamships played a big role in transporting outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy the natural attractions of a growing tourism industry amid the Lake of the Woods many islands. Decommissioned in 1960, the Mather was the last steamboat to travel Lake of the Woods.

Gold: The steamships played an important role in the mini-gold rush of the late 1800’s that lasted about 15 years. The ships carried people, equipment and goods during the rush that saw thousands of claims registered, an increase in population and settlement activity and a peak of 25 mines in operation near Rat Portage. The gold panned out quickly, but the Sultana Mine, Regina Mine and Mikado Mine were in production until the mid-20th century. Today hikers can find old mining sites, and the Shoal Lake area is considered to be a potentially potent site.

Timber Harvest: In 1875, when Robert Fuller received Lake of the Woods’ first timber permit, the White pine and Red pine harvest provided lumber for local building of bridges and rail ties for the Canadian Pacific Railway construction. John Mather took over Fuller’s permit and established the Keewatin Lumbering and Manufacturing Company, the first of many sawmills in the region. By the early 1900’s, the pulp and paper industry grew in the area, where it remains an important economic factor.

Commercial Fishing: Commercial over-fishing and caviar production in the late 1800’s reduced the Lake of the Woods sturgeon population drastically. Even today, the fish species has not rebounded, though no commercial fishing is allowed in the Canadian waters of Lake of the Woods.

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