Portage refers to the practice of carrying a
canoeor other boatover land to avoid an obstacle on the water route (such as rapids or a waterfallin a river), or between two bodies of water (such as over an isthmus). A place where this carrying occurs is also called a portage, while a person doing the carrying is called a porter.
Over time, depending on the importance of the portages, they were sometimes upgraded to
canals with locks, and even portage railways. Portaging generally required unloading the vessel and carrying vessel and contents across the portage in multiple trips. Voyageurs would often employ a tump lineon their head to carry a load armfree on their back. Small canoes can be portaged by carrying them inverted over one's shoulders and the center thwart may be designed in the style of a yoketo facilitate this.
Portages can range in length from dozens of meters to many kilometers in length (the famous 19 km
Methye Portagebeing a good example), and often cover hilly or difficult terrain. Most portages are the result of elevation changes, either changes in elevation from one body of water to another, or changes in elevation of the land in between. This results in most portages involving some measure of climbing or descending. However some, such as Mavis Grindin Shetlandexist on an Isthmuswhere it is easier or safer to transport a boat over-land than round it. In these cases the climbing or descending required is often minimal.
Portages played an important part in the economy of some African societies. For instance,
Bamakowas chosen as the capital of Malibecause it is located on the Niger Rivernear the rapids that divide the Upper and Middle Niger Valleys.
Diolkos" was a paved trackway in Ancient Greecewhich enabled boats to be moved overland across the Isthmus of Corinthfrom the Gulf of Corinthto the Saronic Gulf. The 6 to 8.5 km long roadway was a rudimentary form of railway,Lewis, M. J. T., [http://www.sciencenews.gr/docs/diolkos.pdf "Railways in the Greek and Roman world"] , in Guy, A. / Rees, J. (eds), "Early Railways. A Selection of Papers from the First International Early Railways Conference" (2001), pp. 8-19 (8 & 15)] and operated from ca. 600 BC until the middle of the 1st century AD.Verdelis, Nikolaos: "Le diolkos de L'Isthme", "Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique", Vol. 81 (1957), pp. 526-529 (526)] Cook, R. M.: "Archaic Greek Trade: Three Conjectures 1. The Diolkos", "The Journal of Hellenic Studies", Vol. 99 (1979), pp. 152-155 (152)] Drijvers, J.W.: "Strabo VIII 2,1 (C335): Porthmeia and the Diolkos", "Mnemosyne", Vol. 45 (1992), pp. 75-76 (75)] Raepsaet, G. & Tolley, M.: "Le Diolkos de l’Isthme à Corinthe: son tracé, son fonctionnement", "Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique", Vol. 117 (1993), pp. 233–261 (256)] Lewis, M. J. T., [http://www.sciencenews.gr/docs/diolkos.pdf "Railways in the Greek and Roman world"] , in Guy, A. / Rees, J. (eds), "Early Railways. A Selection of Papers from the First International Early Railways Conference" (2001), pp. 8-19 (11)]
In the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries, the
Vikingmerchants-adventurers exploited a network of waterways in Eastern Europe, with portages connecting the four most important rivers of the region: Volga, Western Dvina, Dnieper, and Don. The portages of present-day Russiawere vital for the Varangiancommerce with the Orientand Byzantium.
At the most important portages (such as
Gnezdovo) there were trade outposts inhabited by a mixture of Norse merchants and native population. The Khazarsbuilt the fortress of Sarkelto guard a key portage between the Volga and the Don. After the Varangian and Khazar power in Eastern Europe waned, Slavic merchants continued to use the portages along the Volga trade routeand the Dnieper trade route. The names of the towns Volokolamskand Vyshny Volochekmay be translated as "the portage on the Lama River" and "the upper portage", respectively (the word "volok" means "portage" in Russian, derived from the verb "to drag").
In North America
Places where portaging occurred often became temporary and then permanent settlements (such as
Hull, Quebec; Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Chicago, Illinois). Sometimes the settlements were named for being on a portage, particularly in North America. Some places so named are:
Cranberry Portage, Manitoba
Grand Portage, Minnesota
Portage la Prairie, Manitoba
Portage, Indiana(named so indirectly, since there has been never any portage)
Portage County, Ohio
Portage Park, Chicago
Seton Portage, British Columbia
Giscome Portage, British Columbia
In New Zealand
Portages existed in a number of locations where an isthmus existed that the local
Māoricould drag of carry their waka across from the Tasman Seato the Pacific Oceanor vice versa. The most famous ones are located in Auckland, where there remain two 'Portage Road's in separate parts of the city.
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