As soon as we entered the Rainy River, we noticed something peculiar about our right hand shore line. The air was a little heavier and had a hint of fast food while bald eagles were stationed on every treetop watching our every move as if "robotically". The land was strangely devoid of a second official language, lacked coloured money, and was uncomfortable with anything foreign. We were in the shadow of America.
It's easy to pick on our two-party neighbour to the south, but being concerned primarily with wilderness travel, two differences need to be highlighted.
Portage Pronunciation - This is not a tomato - tomato debate. There IS a correct way to say the word that describes the act of hauling your canoe and gear overland between two bodies of water.
"Por- taage" pronounced with a soft "a" reflects the word's French roots. This is the preferred Canadian and correct pronunciation. It's fun to say, and gets you in the mood to count the upcoming metres.
"Port-idge" the incorrect American pronunciation has a short and abrupt feel to it, not at all reflecting the gruelling action the word is meant to describe. What a gross indecency to the origin! Imagine our offence when we encountered the double harsh sound of an Americanized "Grand Portage"! Sacrebleu! Gone is the history and romance of Le Grand Portage!
Rods - Having no need for the International Bureau of Weights and Measures and its worldwide adoption of standards, metric does not apply in the United States. In the US, complex systems of measurement still run rampant.
As good Canadians, we measure our por-taages in metres. (Note the "re" proper Queen's English spelling). A metre is a practical unit. It is equal to the length of the path travelled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1⁄299,792,458 of a second. It can be converted into other metric units by just moving the decimal! You can easily visualise a metre from your grade school days of running the 500m in track and field and dividing by 500! All these reasons make it the perfect measure of distance over a por-taage.
The Americans measure their port-idges in rods. A rod is an antiquated imperial measurement handy in the calculation of a standard acre. They came into popular use when King Henry VIII wanted to know exactly how much land he had just acquired from dissolving the Catholic Church. Interesting, but where does this fit into canoeing?
A rod happens to be 16 1/2 feet long, also the length of a standard tandem canoe. So a port-idge of 35 rods would be the equivalent of carrying your canoe 35 times its length or translated into Canadian as 176.022m (0.352 of a 500m dash).
All told, we spent 11 nights in Minnesota, from the Rainy River to Lake Superior. We criss-crossed "the longest undefended border in the world" with ease; lunch in Ontario, dinner in Minnesota, not once encountering a border patrol agent or experimental surveillance drone. We learned to forgive and then love mental math, with every portage containing the same equation: visualise carrying a canoe x amount of times, then convert the rods to feet to metres and then back to track and field visualisations. However, we never got over the non-French infused pronunciation of Portage.