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Entries : Jolliet and La Salle's Canal Plans
Jolliet and La Salle's Canal Plans

Jolliet and La Salle's Canal Plans

With Father Jacques Marquette, Louis Jolliet traveled by canoe during the spring of 1673, first on the Wisconsin, then on to find the Mississippi River for Nouvelle France. They returned north on the Illinois River to the mouth of the Chicago River.

Jolliet made a careful notation of the physiography of the area, leading us to believe that he and his companions spent several days there. The Chicago Portage fascinated Jolliet. He recognized the potential of a direct maritime link between the St. Lawrence estuary on the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, writing to another Jesuit priest: “ ...it should be easy to go as far as Florida in a bark.... A canal would need to be cut across in only half a league of a prairie in order to enter from the lake in the River St. Louis (Illinois River) which discharges into the Mississippi.”

Nine years later, in 1682, Robert Cavelier de La Salle and his men, in the course of his final—and successful—attempt to reach the mouth of the Mississippi, went through the Chicago Portage. La Salle did not favor the portage due to the unreliability of the depth of the water, which meant a possible six-mile trek overland (the path following present-day Archer Avenue). But he also believed that a canal could be easily cut, aware that the French had the technology, as demonstrated by the digging of the Canal du Midi, linking the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.