Chicago Portage

The Chicago Portage is a water gap, and in the past a sometime wind-gap portage, connecting the watersheds (BrE: drainage basins) and the navigable waterways of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes. It cuts through the Valparaiso and Tinley Moraines, crossing the Saint Lawrence River Divide that separates the Great Lakes and Gulf of St. Lawrence watersheds from the Gulf of Mexico watershed, making it one of the most strategic points in the interior of the North American continent. The saddle point of the gap is within the city of Chicago, and the Chicago Portage is a reason Chicago exists and has developed to become the important city that it is,[2] ranking 7th in the world in the 2014 Global Cities Index. The official flag of the city of Chicago includes four red stars symbolizing city history, separating two blue stripes symbolizing the waters that meet at the city.[3]

Chicago Portage
Chicago Portage Hike Into History
Maps of the Chicago Portage, on a sign at Chicago Portage National Historic Site
Elevation589 ft (180 m)[1]
Traversed byMud Lake (historic), Illinois and Michigan Canal (historic), Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, several railroads, numerous roads including I-55.svg I-55 (Stevenson Expressway)
Location(historic) 3100 West 31st Street, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, US
RangeValparaiso Moraine
Coordinates41°50′14″N 87°42′8″W / 41.83722°N 87.70222°W

Flow direction

A principal feature of the Chicago Portage water gap is that water can flow through it in either direction across the Saint Lawrence River Divide. It has flowed from east to west, west to east, or not at all. There have been two long-term reversals, and short-term reversals still happen today. Initially, water flowed from east to west starting about 10,000 years ago. About 3,000 years ago, this flow mostly stopped, and the Chicago Portage became a wind gap, except during floods when it flowed from west to east. In the year 1900, it was reversed to again flow continuously from east to west, except during floods when it can be reversed to flow from west to east.[4]


Glacial lakes
Development of the Great Lakes
Map of Chicago Portage
Map of Chicago Portage

The Chicago Portage was formed as the Wisconsin glaciation retreated northward about 10,000 years ago, leaving behind Lake Chicago consisting of its meltwater. Lake Chicago found its only outlet at its southwestern edge, where it overflowed the Valparaiso Moraine which encircles the southern half of the Lake Chicago/Lake Michigan basin, creating the Chicago Outlet River. This was a substantial river, carving the channel later used by the main and south branches of the Chicago River, and the Des Plaines River.[5] Eventually the glaciers melted far enough northward that Lake Chicago was connected to Lake Huron, a combination sometimes called Lake Michigan-Huron, resulting in a significant drop in the water level. Until perhaps 3,000 years ago, the combined lakes had two outlets, one at Chicago, and the other via the St. Clair River at Port Huron, Michigan. Eventually the St. Clair River outlet eroded slightly more quickly, resulting in stream capture of the Chicago Outlet River as the water level of Lake Michigan-Huron gradually declined. However, until man-made canals and levees were built within the past 170 years, during periods of heavy rain or downstream ice dams, the Des Plaines River could still flood eastward through a marshy area of the bed of the former Chicago Outlet River known as Mud Lake, across the continental divide into the Chicago River and then into Lake Michigan.

The saddle point of the gap, where the continental divide crossed the water course, was historically at the eastern end of Mud Lake, where Native Americans portaging their canoes across the low point of the divide carved a slight gouge. This location is now 3100 West 31st Street in Chicago.[1] However, the alterations reversing the flow of the Chicago River in 1900 moved the continental divide to pass through the heart of Downtown Chicago, and moved the saddle point to the Chicago Locks at the mouth of the Chicago River on the Lake Michigan shore. When heavy rain causes the Chicago River to flood, the Chicago Locks can still be opened to release floodwater across the continental divide into Lake Michigan, similar to the historic Des Plaines River floods through Mud Lake across the divide.[4]

As the first Americans extended their settlement northward following the retreating glaciers, they found the Chicago Portage to be a convenient transportation route between the shores of Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River in the interior. The portage was revealed to Europeans in 1673 when the French explorers, Louis Joliet (Jolliet) and Father Jacques Marquette, were canoeing upstream on the Mississippi River. They were guided to the portage by local Native Americans and continued along the Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers. Near where the Des Plaines was separated from the Chicago River they encountered a swampy area known as Mud Lake. Seasonally, this was a shallow waterway or a muddy slough of 8 miles (13 km). This connected the Des Plaines to the Chicago River, which then flowed into Lake Michigan. When French explorer Robert de La Salle surveyed the strategic importance of this connection, he is said to have stood at that point on the shore of Lake Michigan and stated, "This will be the gate of empire, this the seat of commerce."[6]

In the 18th century, the Chicago Portage was the most strategic location in the interior of the North American continent and in particular between the French cities of Montreal and New Orleans. Control of the Portage was critical if the French were to contain English expansion in the New World. According to Joliet, a canal of "half a league'' (about 2 miles (3.2 km)) across the Chicago Portage would allow easy navigation from Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico.[7]

In 1848, the Illinois and Michigan Canal was opened, breaching the water divide and enabling navigation between the two waterways. In 1900 it was replaced by the larger Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. After the Chicago River was reversed and diverted to the new canal, the Mississippi watershed is now separated from the Great Lakes by only the Chicago Locks. The quantity of water allowed to pass (and thus diverted from the St. Lawrence River) is regulated by the U.S. and Canadian International Joint Commission.

Mud Lake

Chicago Portage Waterway
The Portage waterway at the Chicago Portage National Historic Site in March
Chicago Portage
The waterway at the Portage Historic Site in August

From about 3,000 years ago until the year 1900, the Des Plaines River and the Chicago River were connected in the ancient stream bed of the Chicago Outlet River by a slough or swampy area known as Mud Lake. This remnant was left behind when the water level of Lake Michigan-Huron dropped as the St. Clair River captured the flow of the Chicago Outlet River. Mud Lake could be wet, dry, marshy, or frozen, depending on the season and the weather, making it a difficult, albeit very valuable, transportation route. It was drained in several stages, starting with the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848, which bisected it. Several other attempts were made to drain Mud Lake, with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal finally accomplishing this in 1900.

A small remnant of Mud Lake still exists as a wetland area in Forest View, between the Stevenson Expressway, railroad tracks, and West 51st Street, near the Forest View water tower.[1] This isolated remnant of Mud Lake has been prevented from draining into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal by the levees of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the railroad lines, and later the Stevenson Expressway which was built on top of the old I&M Canal in 1964. The rest of Mud Lake is today covered by industrial areas of the city of Chicago.

Chicago Portage National Historic Site

The Chicago Portage National Historic Site is a National Historic Site [8] in Lyons, Cook County, Illinois, United States. Preserved within the park is the western end of the historic portage linking the Chicago River to the Des Plaines River, thereby linking the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River. The wild onion that gave Chicago its name thrives here. The site is the only part of the historic Chicago Portage that remains in a natural and protected state more or less as it existed when revealed to French explorers Louis Joliet (Jolliet) and Father Jacques Marquette by Native Americans.[9]


Lake Chicago

Map of ancient Lake Chicago in what became the portage region


Mississippi Valley watershed and Chicago

Grlakes lawrence map

Great Lakes Basin and St. Lawrence watershed


The Illinois and Michigan Canal breached the water divide in 1848. It was largely replaced by the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in 1900


A map of the principal hydrological divides of North America

See also


  1. ^ a b c Vierling, Phillip E. "Mud Lake - I, Chicago Portage Ledger, Vol II No. 1, January/April 2001". Carnegie Mellon University Libraries.
  2. ^ "The Chicago Portage". Friends of the Chicago Portage. Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  3. ^ "Chicago Facts: Municipal Flag". Chicago Public Library. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  4. ^ a b Gallardo, Michelle. "2 locks opened during record rainfall, July 25, 2011". WLS-TV. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
  5. ^ Alden, William C. (1902). "Epoch of Glacial Retreat: Lake Chicago, Geologic Atlas of the United States, Number 81". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  6. ^ Chicago Today and Tomorrow, by William Joseph Showalter, Nationional Gerographic Magazine, January 1, 1919
  7. ^ Solzman, David M. "Encyclopedia of Chicago: Portage". Chicago Historical Society. Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  8. ^ "CHICAGO PORTAGE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE". Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2012-10-19. Retrieved 2012-05-15.
  9. ^ "The Future of The Past". Friends of the Chicago Portage. Retrieved 2012-08-23.

External links

Addison Street

Addison Street is a major east–west street on the north side of Chicago. Wrigley Field is located at 1060 West Addison Street, which is the home of the Chicago Cubs.

Archer Avenue

Archer Avenue, sometimes known as Archer Road outside the Chicago, Illinois city limits, and also known as State Street only in Lockport, Illinois and Fairmont, Illinois city limits, is a street running northeast-to-southwest between Chicago's Chinatown and Lockport. Archer follows the original trail crossing the Chicago Portage between the Chicago River and the Des Plaines River, and parallels the path of the Illinois and Michigan Canal and the Alton Railroad. As a main traffic artery, it has largely been replaced by the modern Stevenson Expressway.

The street was named after the first commissioner of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, William Beatty Archer. One early map of Chicago (ca. 1830) listed what may have been the future Archer Road as "The Road to Widow Brown's".

Archer Avenue was made famous by Finley Peter Dunne in his books and sketches about the fictional saloonkeeper Mr. Dooley, whose tavern was on "Archey Road". The fictional Dooley "lived" in the real-life Bridgeport, Chicago neighborhood.

Archer Avenue is also famous as the purported haunting place of Resurrection Mary, a vanishing hitchhiker who is said to travel between the Willowbrook Ballroom and Resurrection Cemetery.The east end of Archer begins in Chicago's Chinatown, then passes through the Bridgeport, McKinley Park and Brighton Park neighborhoods on its way to Archer Heights and Garfield Ridge. Outside Chicago, Archer Avenue/Road passes through the villages of Summit, Justice, Willow Springs, and the southern edge of Lemont before terminating on the north side of Lockport. Between Summit and Lockport, Archer Avenue is designated as a part of Illinois Route 171. Historically, this section of Archer was a part of Illinois Route 4, the original 1924 highway connecting St. Louis and Chicago. In 1926, Route 4 was rerouted to the north side of the Des Plaines River on an alignment that subsequently became U.S. Route 66, and its former route on Archer was redesignated as Illinois Route 4A. By 1939, Route 4A had been extended along the entire length of Archer Avenue into Downtown Chicago. In 1967, Route 4A was truncated back to Summit and merged into Illinois Route 171.The former site of Argonne National Laboratory and its predecessor, the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory in the forest preserve near Red Gate Woods, can be entered from an access road on Archer Avenue. This was once a secret Manhattan Project site, and is now known as the Site A/Plot M Disposal Site. Chicago Pile-1 (CP-1), the world's first nuclear reactor, was moved from Stagg Field to this site in 1943 and renamed Chicago Pile-2 (CP-2). The remains of CP-1, CP-2, and Chicago Pile-3 (CP-3) remain buried at this site.

Playland Amusement Park, now defunct, opened in mid-summer of 1950 and was located in Willow Springs, Illinois, which at that time was unincorporated. The area is now in Justice, Illinois. The amusement park was located at 9300 West 79th Street in Willow Springs. Southwest of Lemont, Archer passes Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, site of numerous Professional Golfers Association tournaments.

Berwyn, Illinois

Berwyn is a suburban city in Cook County, Illinois, coterminous with Berwyn Township, which was formed in 1908 after breaking off from Cicero Township. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 56,657.

Chicago Area Waterway System

The Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) is a complex of natural and artificial waterways extending through much of the Chicago metropolitan area,

covering approximately 87 miles altogether. It straddles the Chicago Portage and is the sole navigable inland link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River and makes up the northern end of the Illinois Waterway.The CAWS includes various branches of the Chicago and Calumet Rivers, as well as other channels such as the North Shore Channel, Cal-Sag Channel, and Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal. The CAWS ends near the Lockport Navigational Pool, the highest elevated of the eight pools of the Illinois Waterway. There are three major locks within the CAWS, operated by the Army Corps of Engineers: the Chicago Harbor Lock, the Lockport Lock & Dam, and the Thomas J. O'Brien Lock & Dam.Artificial waterways connecting the Mississippi and Great Lakes systems via the Chicago area, over the Chicago Portage, began with the I&M Canal in 1848. The CAWS as it exists today began to take shape in 1900, with the construction of the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal to reverse the flow of the Chicago and Calumet Rivers, which previously flowed into Lake Michigan, so as to instead flow toward the Mississippi River, thus carrying sewage away from the city of Chicago. Thereafter additional artificial waterways were built that became part of the CAWS, such as the North Shore Channel, which runs inland from Wilmette to the Chicago River and was constructed in 1910, and the Cal Sag Channel, which provides a direct path from the Calumet River to the Illinois Waterway and was finished in 1922.In the 21st century, a focus of concern around the CAWS has been its potential role as a corridor for Asian carp to enter Lake Michigan. Suits in district court and before the United States Supreme Court have been unable to obtain an injunction requiring the connection between the CAWS and the Mississippi drainage to be closed.

Chicago Portage National Historic Site

The Chicago Portage National Historic Site is a National Historic Site in Lyons, Cook County, Illinois, United States. It is located in Chicago Portage Forest Preserve and the Ottawa Trail Woods Forest Preserve, at the junction of Portage Creek with the Des Plaines River, on the west side of Harlem Avenue on the line of 48th Street. Preserved within the park is the western end of the historic portage linking the Chicago River to the Des Plaines River, thereby linking the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River. A memorial depicting the portage of French explorers is located at the parking area. A trail leads from the memorial down into the portage wilderness area.

The site commemorates the Chicago Portage, first written about by French explorers Father Marquette and Louis Joliet during their use of the portage and exploration of the area between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. The portage crossed what was known as Mud Lake, which could be wet, swampy, frozen, or dry, depending on the season, and which has since been completely obliterated. Mud Lake extended roughly from the historic western end of the South Branch of the Chicago River (near today's Damen Avenue) to the Des Plaines River at the present National Historic Site. These explorers understood the importance of the easiest crossing of the continental divide between the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean watersheds.

The site, which was designated January 3, 1952 as an "affiliated area" of the National Park Service, is owned and administered by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Visitor access is via Harlem Avenue, just north of Interstate 55. The site contains the parking area, a memorial statue, interpretive signs, and trails. Activities here are hiking and canoeing, and the Friends of the Chicago Portage sponsors guided walks.

Chicago River

The Chicago River is a system of rivers and canals with a combined length of 156 miles (251 km) that runs through the city of Chicago, including its center (the Chicago Loop). Though not especially long, the river is notable because it is one of the reasons for Chicago's geographic importance: the related Chicago Portage is a link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basin, and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.

The River is also noteworthy for its natural and human-engineered history. In 1887, the Illinois General Assembly decided to reverse the flow of the Chicago River through civil engineering by taking water from Lake Michigan and discharging it into the Mississippi River watershed, partly in response to concerns created by an extreme weather event in 1885 that threatened the city's water supply. In 1889, the Illinois General Assembly created the Chicago Sanitary District (now The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District) to replace the Illinois and Michigan Canal with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, a much larger waterway, because the former had become inadequate to serve the city's increasing sewage and commercial navigation needs. Completed by 1900, the project reversed the flow of the Main Stem and South Branch of the Chicago River by using a series of canal locks and increasing the flow from Lake Michigan into the river, causing the river to empty into the new Canal instead. In 1999, the system was named a 'Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium' by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).The river is represented on the Municipal Flag of Chicago by two horizontal blue stripes. Its three branches serve as the inspiration for the Municipal Device, a three-branched, Y-shaped symbol that is found on many buildings and other structures throughout Chicago.

Drainage divide

A drainage divide, water divide, divide, ridgeline,, watershed, water parting or height of land is elevated terrain that separates neighbouring drainage basins. On rugged land, the divide lies along topographical ridges, and may be in the form of a single range of hills or mountains, known as a dividing range. On flat terrain, especially where the ground is marshy, the divide may be harder to discern.

A triple divide is a point, often a summit, where two drainage divides intersect. A valley floor divide is a low drainage divide that runs across a valley, sometimes created by deposition or stream capture. Major divides separating rivers that drain to different seas or oceans are called continental divides.

The term height of land is a phrase used in Canada and the United States to refer to the divide between two drainage basins. Height of land is frequently used in border descriptions, which are set according to the "doctrine of natural boundaries". In glaciated areas it often refers to a low point on a divide where it is possible to portage a canoe from one river system to another.

Flag of Chicago

The flag of Chicago consists of two blue horizontal stripes or bars on a field of white, each stripe one-sixth the height of the full flag, and placed slightly less than one-sixth of the way from the top and bottom. Between the two blue stripes are four red, six-pointed stars arranged in a horizontal row.

The City of Chicago flag, designed by Wallace Rice, was adopted in 1917 after Rice won the design competition. The three sections of the white field and the two stripes represent geographical features of the city, the stars symbolize historical events, and the points of the stars represent important virtues or concepts. The historic events represented by the stars are Fort Dearborn, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933–34.

In a review by the North American Vexillological Association of 150 American city flags, the Chicago city flag was ranked second best with a rating of 9.03 out of 10, behind only the flag of Washington, D.C.

Forest Preserve District of Cook County

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County is a governmental commission in Cook County, Illinois, that owns and manages the Cook County Forest Preserves. The preserves are a network of open spaces, containing forest, prairie, wetland, streams, and lakes, that are mostly set aside as natural areas. Cook County contains Chicago, and is the center of a densely populated urban metropolitan area in northeastern Illinois. The Forest Preserves encompass approximately 68,000 acres (275 km²) of open space within the urban surroundings of Chicago. It contains facilities for recreation, as well as a zoo and a botanic garden.

Funks Grove, Illinois

Funks Grove is a historic unincorporated community on U.S. Route 66 in McLean County, Illinois, United States southwest of Bloomington. The grove for which the settlement is named, Funk's Grove, is a National Natural Landmark.

Geography of Chicago

The city of Chicago is located in northern Illinois, United States, at the south western tip of Lake Michigan. It sits on the Saint Lawrence Seaway continental divide at the site of the Chicago Portage, an ancient trade route connecting the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes watersheds.

Illinois and Michigan Canal

The Illinois and Michigan Canal connected the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. In Illinois, it ran 96 miles (154 km) from the Chicago River in Bridgeport, Chicago to the Illinois River at LaSalle-Peru. The canal crossed the Chicago Portage, and helped establish Chicago as the transportation hub of the United States, before the railroad era. It was opened in 1848. Its function was largely replaced by the wider and shorter Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in 1900, and it ceased transportation operations with the completion of the Illinois Waterway in 1933.

Illinois and Michigan Canal Locks and Towpath, a collection of eight engineering structures and segments of the canal between Lockport and LaSalle-Peru, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.Portions of the canal have been filled in. Much of the former canal, near the Heritage Corridor transit line, has been preserved as part of the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor.

Jacques Marquette

Father Jacques Marquette S.J. (June 1, 1637 – May 18, 1675), sometimes known as Père Marquette or James Marquette, was a French Jesuit missionary who founded Michigan's first European settlement, Sault Ste. Marie, and later founded St. Ignace, Michigan. In 1673, Father Marquette and Louis Jolliet were the first Europeans to explore and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River Valley.

Joseph Robidoux III

Joseph Robidoux III (12 February 1750 – 16 March 1809), son of Joseph Robidoux II and Marie Anne Le Blanc, and was an early fur trader in Missouri and Nebraska. He and his sons had a long relationship with the American Fur Company, founded by John Jacob Astor. Joseph was born in Sault-au-Récollet, Quebec, Canada, and relocated to St. Louis with his parents when he was 10, traveling via the Chicago Portage.

Joseph established a number of establishments, engaging in trade with anyone offering items of value. In the later 18th and early 19th centuries, St. Louis was a major trading hub with both the Indians and Western settlers. Frequently changing hands among the British, French and Spanish, the rules were often confusing, and Joseph managed to be on many sides of an issue. As an example, in his last letter before his tragic suicide, Meriwether Lewis wrote to Thomas Jefferson:

On my way to St. Louis, last fall, I received satisfactory evidence that a Mr. Robideau [sic], an inhabitant of St. Louis, had, the preceding winter, during intercourse with the Ottoes and Missouris, been guilty of the most flagrant breaches of the first of those misdemeanors above mentioned ... And Mr. Robidoux and sons still prosecute their trade."

On 21 September 1782, Joseph married Catherine Marie Rollet (1767-1798). Joseph and Catherine had nine children, eight of which lived to adulthood:

Joseph IV (1783-1868), known as the Founder for his role in the establishment of St. Joseph, Missouri

François (1788-1856) an early explorer of California

Pierre Isadore (1791-1852)

Antoine (1794-1860), an early settler of Santa Fe, New Mexico

Louis (1796-1868), founder of Riverside, California

Michael (1798-1858)

Eulalie (1800-1818)

Marie Pelagie (1800-1872).Joseph died in St. Louis in 1809.

Lake Chicago

This article is about the prehistoric lake, For other geographic features with this name, see Chicago

Lake Chicago was a prehistoric proglacial lake that is the ancestor of what is now known as Lake Michigan, one of North America's five Great Lakes.

Lyons, Illinois

Lyons is a village in Lyons Township, Cook County, Illinois, United States. The population was 10,729 at the 2010 census. The Chicago Portage National Historic Site is located in Lyons.

Mud Lake (Illinois)

There are several lakes named Mud Lake within the U.S. state of Illinois.

Mud Lake, Barrington Hills, Cook County, Illinois. 42°09′06″N 88°12′55″W

Mud Lake (historic), Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. Was part of the Chicago Portage. No longer exists.

Mud Lake, Gallatin County, Illinois. 37°35′54″N 88°09′50″W

Mud Lake, Lake County, Illinois. 42°26′20″N 88°11′11″W

Mud Lake, Mason County, Illinois. 40°24′15″N 89°57′06″W

Mud Lake, Sangamon County, Illinois. 39°50′56″N 89°33′46″W

Saint Lawrence River Divide

The Saint Lawrence River Divide is a continental divide in central and eastern North America that separates the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin from the southerly Atlantic Ocean watersheds. Water, including rainfall and snowfall, lakes, rivers and streams, north and west of the divide, drains into the Gulf of St. Lawrence or the Labrador Sea; water south and east of the divide drains into the Atlantic Ocean (east of the Eastern Continental Divide, ECD) or Gulf of Mexico (west of the ECD). The divide is one of six continental divides in North America that demarcate several watersheds that flow to different gulfs, seas or oceans.

The divide has its origin at ‘Hill of Three Waters’ triple divide on the Laurentian Divide approx. 2 miles north of Hibbing, Minnesota. From there it swoops below the Great Lakes and into upper New York where it runs southeast of the St. Lawrence River dipping briefly below Lake Champlain before running northeasterly following the western border of Maine. It then turns southeasterly through central New Brunswick. From there, the divide runs easterly along the northern coast of Nova Scotia turning north and following the Cape Breton Highlands to the headland on the northern peninsula between Aspy Bay and St. Lawrence Bay.

The hydrology of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin is elaborate: Lake Nipigon drains via the Nipigon River, the primary tributary of Lake Superior, into Nipigon Bay in central northern Lake Superior. Lake Superior drains from its eastern end southeast via the St. Mary’s River into Lake Huron; hydrologically, Lake Michigan is one with Lake Huron thru the wide Straits of Mackinac at the northern end; the southwestern portion of Lake Michigan drains via the Chicago Drainage Canal into the Illinois River thence to the Gulf of Mexico. Lake Huron drains thru its southern tip southerly via the St. Clair River into Lake St. Clair then southerly via the Detroit River into western Lake Erie. Lake Erie drains northerly from its northeastern end via the Niagara River into the southwestern end of Lake Ontario. Lake Ontario drains northwesterly from its northwestern end into the St. Lawrence River, and thence into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Finally, much of the coastal and central Labrador region, especially via Lake Melville, drains to the Labrador Sea.

Four canals cross the divide: The Champlain Canal connects Lake Champlain to the Hudson River watershed. The Erie Canal connects Lake Erie to the Hudson River watershed. The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal crosses the Chicago Portage and connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River watershed. The Portage Canal connects the Fox River to the Wisconsin River at Portage, Wisconsin. Historically there were additional canals, e.g., the Ohio and Erie Canal, but most of these are no longer in operation.

Water gap

A water gap is a gap that flowing water has carved through a mountain range or mountain ridge and that still carries water today. Such gaps that no longer carry water currents are called wind gaps. Water gaps and wind gaps often offer a practical route for road and rail transport to cross the mountain barrier.

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