The United States Geological Survey is a Federal government agency. It has been impacted by the government budget impasse that exists as I write this article in October 2013. Guess what? It also means that the Geographical Names Information System was turned off. Only websites "necessary to protect lives and property" are running at the moment; you know, things like earthquake information and disease maps. A database of weird town names intended to seed 12MC articles apparently didn’t make the cut.(¹)
That’s fine, I’m flexible. I turned my attention northward and focused my geo-oddity love entirely upon Canada instead, where they’ve managed to establish a functional government. The Canadian geographical names search worked just fine. That allowed me to get back to my current target of curiosity, the actual portages referenced by places named Portage.
Numerous examples existed in Canada, neatly categorized by the geographical database, with a city, a town, a village and a hamlet. I’ll deal with them in order. It also generated a large pile of "unincorporated areas" that I didn’t have time to explore.
Portage la Prairie, Manitoba
Portage la Prairie
Portage la Prairie was the city, and rightly so with nearly 13,000 residents. The portage referenced an overland route connecting Lake Manitoba to the Assiniboine River. The portage cut across the prairie and in turn an appropriately-named town formed at this vital crossroad.
I’ll sidestep the city’s abundant history and focus on current curiosities instead. First, notice the body of water that the city calls Crescent Lake. That’s no simple crescent of course, it’s an oxbow. Longtime 12MC readers know how much I enjoy oxbow lakes and this one is a particularly fine specimen. Next, Portage la Prairie was reputed to have the world’s largest Coca-Cola can. I don’t make this stuff up. Readers can confirm its existence in Street View. I can’t confirm whether this one is truly the largest coke or why it would happen to be located in Portage la Prairie. It seemed to be a convenient way to recycle an old water tower.
Following the same logic, would Portage-du-Fort be the portage of the fort? That portage wasn’t in question; it was a path around a series of rapids on the Ottawa River. The fort, well, that was a different issue. Outaouais Heritage claimed,
In 1611, Nicolas Vignau, a white scout, landed at what is now Portage du Fort with a party of Algonquins. On their way to tribal headquarters at Allumettes Island, they had to portage overland for the first of a series of five difficult cataracts. In 1694, the famous military engineer Louis d’Ailleboust, Sieur de Coulonge, established a fur trading post near the mouth of the Coulonge River. The stretch of cataracts that led to Fort Coulonge became known as “le portage du fort” and this is how the settlement at the foot of the rapids got its name.
Competing theories also existed so nobody really knows.
Our Lady of the Portage? It makes more sense after one reviews the Notre-Dame-du-Portage Histoire de la municipalité. Let’s start by identifying the portage as auto-translated from French, in typical mangled fashion:
For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans in North America, Indians (Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Abenaki and Montagnais) borrowed the “portage boaters.” This ancient way of communication, made of water paths and dirt roads, allowing them to move between the St. Lawrence and the St. John River Témiscouata… To communicate between Acadia and Quebec, the capital of New France, the French borrowed this portage. A few years before the conquest of England, they decided to establish a permanent channel of communication by land between the St. Lawrence and Acadia. In 1746, construction began on the “path of the Grand Portage,” a path three feet (, 91 m) wide starting at the same place as the old port.
So the portage extended between the St.Lawrence River and Lac Témiscouata. From there a waterway extended down the St. John River and all the way to the Bay of Fundy.
The Notre Dame part came much later. It was a parish established in 1856, and a church of the same name grew soon thereafter.
Camsell Portage, Saskatchewan
camsell portage saskatchewan by Kristin Marie Enns-Kavanagh, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
I found very little on Camsell Portage other than it was located about as far north in Saskatchewan as one could possibly travel (map). One can’t simply drive to Camsell Portage either, it’s a fly-in community, and barely a handful of people live there anymore.
I wondered what the portage might be. The hamlet can be found at the northernmost extreme of Lake Athabasca so that would be a starting point, but to where? Tazin Lake? Some other body of water? The nearby Alberta-Northwest Territories-Saskatchewan tripoint?
It took some persistence and I finally found my answer in a book, "Our Towns: Saskatchewan Communities from Abbey to Zenon Park"
The community developed as a trappers’ settlement in the early 1900′s and is named for a nearby historic portage which connects Lake Athabasca to the great lakes of the Northwest Territories. The portage itself was named after Dr. Charles Camsell (1875-1958), the son of a Hudson Bay Company factor who became recognized as a visionary geologist, map-maker and explorer.
(¹) Sure I could use any of several Internet search engines instead. However the USGS database makes it a lot easier to uncover the true oddities without the clutter. Maybe I’ll create a U.S.-centric version of this article after the current fiscal mess dissipates.
Every once in awhile I post an article not necessarily for the 12MC audience, intended more as a public service to people who might come to the site for a highly specific purpose only a single time. I’m not always sure why I receive sudden website traffic surges, however I try to be accommodating. Often it’s because of an Internet quiz or a crossword puzzle, or even a classroom homework assignment. This time the query related to airports named after fictional characters.
Currently — and this could change at any moment or differ from person-to-person — an article from the Twelve Mile Circle occupies the top result for a Google search on that phrase. We should thank loyal reader Peter for our fortunate result since it was his comment that generated this recent round of hits.
The original article, Studios to Towns, was all about places related to the movie industry. That led to comments about airports named after Bob Hope, John Wayne, and various other showbiz personalities, and then segued to fictional characters after meandering a bit. Peter mentioned Robin Hood and Don Quijote (or the more familiar Quixote in the English version).
If you’ve arrived on the website looking for "Airports Named after Fictional Characters" the answer is probably Robin Hood. Feel free to move away from the website and go to the next question if you like. I won’t take it personally. If you want to explore the possibilities in a little more detail including a coupe of surprises, then pull up a seat and stick around for awhile.
Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield
I thought the best answer was Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield because it had considerably more passenger traffic than any other alternative. Doncaster sits practically on its doorstep and Sheffield is less than twenty miles away. Robin Hood handled 700,000 passengers in 2012 with several regular international flights to places like Spain, Poland and Egypt.
The name came with a minor controversy. Some people in Nottingham complained that Robin Hood belonged to them, not to Doncaster farther north. Doncaster advocates countered that their city aligned more closely with the geographic placement of Sherwood Forest. The official 12MC position: it doesn’t matter, he wasn’t a real person. At best, he was a composite of many different outlaws.
Aeropuerto Ciudad Real Central (aka. Aeropuerto Don Quijote)
Aeropuerto Don Quijote in Spain presented a seriously messed-up situation. Officially it was called Ciudad Real Central Airport. That caveat made it difficult to consider it an airport named for a fictional character. The second issue was tremendously more problematic. The airport closed in 2012 after only three years of operation. It went into bankruptcy. That made the question of its name completely moot.
Huffington Post noted in Ciudad Real International Airport Sits Abandoned In Central Spain (July 2012) that airport construction cost 1.1 billion Euros, "offered a high-speed rail connection to Madrid some 150 miles away and was meant to handle roughly 600,000 passengers annually." BBC reported on speculation that the airport was actually designed to fail from the beginning.
When a local construction magnate came up with the idea of an airport in Ciudad Real, money was sloshing around Spain for public works… “You might think the airport failed because of the crisis, but I am convinced that the shareholders never thought it (the airport) would work. The only profit in this airport was the building of it,” says local investigative journalist Carlos Otto. “The construction itself of the airport provided the first profit for the investors because they signed contracts with their own construction companies.”
Aeropuerto Don Quijote doesn’t quality for the list at the moment. Perhaps it could be reopened someday and we might be able to look at it again.
Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin
Flin Flon Airport
I found a couple of airports on my own.
The first one was named for the fictional Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin. Actually, it was named for the nearby town that was named for Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin. Longtime 12MC readers are already familiar with the story. The Canadian town and its airport are both named Flin Flon after the title character of a particularly dreadful 1905 pulp-fiction novel. Flin Flon, the town, straddles the border between Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Flin Flon, the airport, falls completely within Manitoba.
Two airlines serve Flin Flon Airport, Calm Air and Bearskin, with regular passenger service to Winnipeg. The city said their runway could accommodate a Boeing 737. I don’t know how many jets of that size need to land near a town of fewer than 6,000 residents, however, the runway is available should passenger demand require it.
The last one was a stretch. It’s a heliport. At a hospital. It has a Canadian Location Identifier (CPE2) although it does not have an International Air Transport Association airport code. That makes sense as I think about it some more. Nobody will need to check luggage to their final destination for any of these flights.
Ajax Heliport serves Rouge Valley Ajax and Pickering Hospital in Ontario. The heliport was named for the nearby Town of Ajax, which in turn was named for the HMS Ajax, a light cruiser that saw service in the Second World War. Going back farther, the HMS Ajax was named for a hero of Greek mythology that appeared in the Iliad. Got all that? Ajax, the heliport, for Ajax, the hospital, for Ajax the town, for Ajax the ship, for Ajax the fictional Greek hero.
I welcome additions to the list.
Plans change. I gamble when I choose to mull over a thought and allow it to percolate in my mind. Sometimes the delay results in a better article. Other times, ideas not acted upon decisively will be overtaken by events.
Loyal reader "Rhodent" and I were communicating by email about a potential offshoot of "NOT as the Crow Flies." The contest would have focused on the greatest time or distance differences between walking and driving to a common point, where walking would have provided a distinct advantage. Ariel Dybner posted a comment just as we were structuring the query.
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Ariel found a location in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the "one-way twisty Rich Mountain Road out of Cades Cove." The drive would last 1 hour and 23 minutes. The walk would take 21 seconds. Checkmate. Abundant kudos to Ariel, and well played, and for being prescient enough to claim victory before we ever began. Now it’s back to the drawing board for 12MC though.
I decided to keep the pedestrians and ditch the automobiles. Where are places that motorized vehicles cannot go? Trails, certainly, although I’m on a bridge fixation at the moment. I’ll focus on some impressive pedestrian-only bridges, also commonly known as footbridges.
IMPRESSIVE PEDESTRIAN BRIDGES
Notice that I didn’t use the title "longest" pedestrian bridges. Longest is surprisingly subjective and it abuts several definitional issues that I’m choosing to deflect. If one simply must put a fence around the topic then I guess Guinness World Records would be suitable: "On 3 October 2009, the 2.06-km (6,767-ft, or 1.28-mile) Poughkeepsie Bridge (also known as the Walkway Over the Hudson State National Park) in New York, USA, was re-opened to the public as the world’s longest pedestrian bridge. Hornibrook Bridge across Bramble Bay in Queensland, Australia, was longer but demolition started in the summer of 2010."
Let’s go there.
Walkway Over the Hudson; Poughkeepsie, New York, USA
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Guinness mentioned the salient points. I’ll fill in some of the details.
Walkway Over the Hudson began service as a railroad bridge spanning between Poughkeepsie and Lloyd in New York, crossing the Hudson River to connect with the larger rail network. Originally it carried a less romantic name, the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge. It opened to rail traffic in 1889, served as a major corridor for passengers and freight, and closed after a fire in 1974. I’m not sure how a steel and iron truss bridge catches fire. I’ll assume there were wooden elements — perhaps track ties that kept the rails at a proper gauge — and offer the civil engineering historians in the audience an opportunity to ponder likely scenarios. It caught fire. It closed.
The bridge stood as a decaying hulk, a metaphor trapped in a post-industrial world, until a group of citizens reinvented it as a pedestrian park. They formed the nonprofit Walkway Over the Hudson to secure public and private funding for an adequate restoration. The bridge reopened in 2009 as the linear Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, a dizzying 212 feet (65 m) above the Hudson River.
Walnut Street Bridge; Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA
SOURCE: Flickr by fdtate via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Check a search engine for the longest pedestrian bridges and the Walnut Street Bridge (map) will land near the top of the results. It spans 2,376 feet (724 m) with a deck 100 feet (30 m) above the Tennessee River. That’s quite impressive although it’s nowhere near the magnitude of the Walkway Over the Hudson.
A website with the creative name East Tennessee River Valley Geotourism describes the history:
The Walnut Street Bridge is Tennessee’s oldest non-military highway bridge still in use today, restored and revitalized as a pedestrian bridge and linear park. In only a generation, The Bridge has become the centerpiece, and a vital connector of Chattanooga’s riverfront renaissance… Since 1978, when it was closed to traffic for safety reasons after serving Chattanooga for 87 years, the Walnut Street Bridge sat disabled, deteriorating, dormant, and yet another reminder of the city’s decaying downtown. By the late 1980s, the city had taken steps to demolish the downtrodden bridge, but lacked the funding.
Geotourism. I might have to steal that term.
A private organization, The Parks Foundation stepped-in and saved the structure. The 1890 relic reopened as a pedestrian-only bridge in 1993. The deck was changed from asphalt to wood planking in 2010, and added to the charm. Where would we be without private nonprofit groups and foundations to rescue our historic landmarks?
Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge; Omaha, Nebraska – Council Bluffs, Iowa, USA
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Aficionados of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge remark that it’s the longest footbridge that spans between two states. One must find superlatives where one can find them, I suppose. Even so it spans 3,000 feet (914 m) across the Missouri River with a deck of 60 feet (18 m), and that’s mighty impressive.
There are two points that intrigue me. First, this is a modern bridge (opened 2008) designed specifically as a footbridge. It is only fifteen feet wide which is sufficient clearance for legs and bicycles. It will never carry motorized vehicles. In that sense it reminds me of the Sundial Bridge although it’s more than four times longer. Second, the builders constructed a marker on the state line so that visitors can show-off when they’re standing in two states at the same time.
There’s a third element and I have mixed feelings about it. The walkway was built with Federal dollars so it’s a shining example of an earmark, or should one prefer a more derogatory term, pork. They named it for the Senator who secured the funding. I’m not pointing a finger at him personally because all politicians regardless of affiliation do the same thing.(1) I’ll simply note that this bridge cost on the order of $20 million footed by taxpayers living primarily outside of Nebraska and Iowa. I’d contrast that with the DIY approach used by nonprofits and foundations mentioned previously. It’s a beautiful structure that probably adds to the ambiance of the waterfront, maybe leading to economic growth and new tax revenues, so maybe it all works out in the end? Maybe.
SkyTrail; Outlook, Saskatchewan, Canada
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license
SkyTrail "Canada’s Longest Pedestrian Bridge" (map) represents another claim on the continuum of Internet glory. It began as a railway trestle, 3,000 feet (914 m) long and 150 feet (46 m) above the South Saskatchewan River. The first Canadian Pacific Railway trains rumbled over in 1912 and continued to use it until 1987. It was converted to pedestrian use in 2003 and forms a part of the Trans-Canada Trail.
I like the name of the town, Outlook. The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan explains, "the railway named the location Outlook for its spectacular vantage over the river valley." I need to walk that bridge someday.
Hornibrook Bridge (R.I.P.), Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
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I’m not even going to comment on the unusual name of the bridge. It reminds me of the old joke about the similarity between cheap beer and a canoe.
Once it was considered the longest pedestrian bridge in the world, longer even than the Walkway Over the Hudson. While it existed, it spanned 8,806 feet (1.67 miles, 2.684 kilometres) across Bramble Bay, a solid couple thousand feet longer than the current claimant. Hornibrook Bridge was razed recently so that’s all moot now. It had been a popular attraction for fitness and fishing from its 1979 closure to automotive traffic to its demolition. Alas, no more.
Pedestrians were offered a convenient alternative and it always lacked a certain dramatic visual impact anyway, so that may have lessened the blow. The Houghton Highway runs immediately to the east and a second bridge was added to the highway in 2010. It included a protected pedestrian lane separated from vehicular traffic by a concrete barrier.
Google Street View coverage features an interesting period during the timeline, January 2010 (view). Catch it while it lasts, it’s destined to be overwritten someday. Currently, as of the publication of this article, it shows Hornibrook prior to its demolition plus the new Houghton Highway lanes (the Ted Smout Memorial Bridge) under construction and nearly completed. It’s easy to see why Brisbane added the new bridge — Street View shows two-way traffic on a three lane bridge, without any lane barriers to separate traffic coming at opposite directions and only an overhead crossbar with green and red lights to prevent head-on collisions.
Smout is amazingly close to Smoot. It must be a bridge thing.
(1)Even 12MC’s possible secret admirer does that. Go back to the article that started it all if you’re unfamiliar with this long-running 12MC gag.