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Rants from the Relic: A Little Long Story

by Doug Luthanen

Dad built a log shack near Kaleva Bay during the Depression.  In that cabin was a wall hanging labeled “Location Map of Burntside Lake” which I pored over for hours as a kid in the Fifties. Burntside is centered and much of Town of Morse is included.  It has a grid of township numbers, ranges, and section numbers.  Burntside Lodge, by that locating system is at Township 63, Range 13, Section 23.

Dad gave me the map in 1982 and it has traveled with me since.  It now hangs in my office near prints of paintings by Ely artists Carl Gawboy (“Train Depot”), Ed Labernik (“The Bull of Burntside”), and Joe Baltich (“Northbound At 35 Below”).

Location Map of Burntside Lake is a promotional item evidently published by Van Vac Harris to attract lodgers to his Burntside Lake Resort, Camp Van Vac, which opened in 1917.  The map interests me to today beyond its nostalgic value.

For example, what we know today as Shagawa Lake is labeled “Long Lake.”  That explains why there’s a Little Long Lake just north of it.  I asked my late friend Mark Anderson what “Shagawa” means in Objibwe and he replied with typical brevity: “long.”  I looked it up in the Ojibwe-English Dictionary online and by breaking the name into its three syllables, it came out roughly “not an oval lake.”  i.e. “long.”

A half of a large, armed lake north of Burntside is labelled “Clear Lake”.  We know it today as Cummings Lake.  Two little popular hike-to lakes off Burntside, Coo and Chant, are not shown yet a couple of similar sized lakes, Shipman Bass and Minister, are shown but not labelled although someone wrote “Minister Lake” in black ink sometime after the printing of the map.  Several other lakes are shown but not labelled.  The omission of Coo and Chant makes me wonder if they were not known at the time the map was printed.  Dad told me that as a young lad he was told by his dad to climb a tall tree near the mouth of the North Arm of Burntside and look to see if there was a little lake a few rods off of Burntside.  He said he saw the lake and reported so and thereafter claimed that he discovered Chant Lake.  Of course he also claimed, when someone would ask “Hey Matt, where did you get that [tool, pen, ring]?”, he’d reply predictably “I stole it off a priest in Duluth.”  So his claim to have discovered Chant Lake could possibly be challenged.

The map, interestingly, shows Bass Lake in its form prior to the washout that drained most of it in May of 1925.  An abandoned logging sluice failed one night and the roar of the rushing water was reportedly heard miles away.  Today hikers can walk from Echo Trail to the falls that now separates the two pieces of the once-much-larger Bass Lake into Dry Lake and Bass Lake.

Another landmark, County 88, Grant McMahon Boulevard, is complete on this map circling Shagawa Lake as it does now -- suggesting that that loop has been open to traffic for over 100 years.

Given the omission of Coo and Chant and the various distortions to the shape of some of the lakes shown, it’s obvious this map was created from surveys and not aerial photography.  Its accuracy and comprehensive content tell us how amazingly good were the surveyors and cartographers of that era.

Speaking of that era, all this history makes me want to know when this map was created.  We know it was prior to May 1925 when Bass Lake shrank, and probably after 1917 when Camp Van Vac opened.  To confirm those brackets and possibly narrow the range further, it would be interesting to know when Long Lake was renamed “Shagawa.”

Readers’ input is welcomed.  Send The Echo’s editor a letter and let’s add this datum to the interesting history of Ely.


Doug Luthanen grew up in Ely and graduated from Memorial High School in 1967.  He wrote a weekly viewpoint column for the Northwest Arkansas Times for four years and is an occasional contributor to The Ely Echo.

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