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An Important Advantage Perhaps Hard to Believe
In the letter to Bishop Laval in Quebec, Jolliet details his discoveries and numbers his “remarks”.
“The fourth remark concerns a very great and important advantage, which perhaps will hardly be believed. It is that we could go with facility to Florida in a bark, and by very easy navigation. It would only be necessary to make a canal, by cutting through but half a league of prairie, to pass from the foot of the lake of the Illinois to the river Saint Louis.” (Jolliet’s names for Lake Michigan and the Des Plaines River)
Jolliet was the first European to suggest a man-made link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. The importance of Jolliet’s discovery, and his near disbelief of it, may seem a bit obscure to today’s readers. But Jolliet understood that he'd found the link between the capitol and population center of Quebec in New France with the watersheds of the Mississippi, and all their natural resources, AND he'd found the passage to the Gulf of Mexico.
THAT idea; linking the Great Lakes and the Mississippi by means of a man-made canal across the boundary of those two great watersheds, was of such vision and obvious benefit to those who followed Jolliet that it was remembered for more than a century and a half before anyone put a shovel in the ground.
It was remembered by the British after they drove the French off the continent. It was remembered by the Americans after the British had been defeated in the War of Independence. It was remembered by the Americans in treaties with Native tribes that defined and protected the canal corridor even before Illinois was a state. And it was remembered by the first Illinoisan’s when the state became a state and set out to finally build the canal.
It took more than 160 years before anyone began to dig the canal, but the idea endured and persisted. Jolliet’s vision of a canal of but half a league was ultimately realized in 1848 with the opening of the Illinois-Michigan Canal.
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