[This is a cool story for those who know Portage and Portage Lake. Of course, “portage” is the French word used for the act of carrying a canoe or other boat overland, which would happen when travelers had to move from one body of water to another. This is where I grew up. Jim Dumond was a longtime game warden in the area and I believe owned Dean’s Motor Lodge for a while. And the Gagnon name is a very familiar one in Portage. It will be interesting to see just how far back they can track these artifacts and if there are any more there. — KM]
PORTAGE, Maine — Every object passing through a person’s hands has a story to tell.
Sometimes those stories are centuries in the making and take years to tell themselves. Just ask Jim Dumond and Antoine Gagnon of Portage whose story of trade between two nations and two hand-forged axes dates back to the mid-1600s.
The axes initially were discovered in the 1950s on a piece of land known locally as Indian Point on the banks of Portage Lake.
“My grandfather Fred Cliff was clearing some land in between two camps, and the fellow he hired to pull stumps turned over some dirt and there were these old iron axes,” Fred Edgecombe of Kure Beach, N.C., said during a phone interview Saturday.
Now retired, Edgecombe owns one of those camps and has one of the axes.
“In the late 1970s my cousin got the larger of the two axes and I got the smaller one, and we’ve been sitting on them ever since,” Edgecombe said. “Nobody had much of an interest in them and all of sudden, it’s like, ‘Wow, people are interested.’”
In fact, Dumond and Gagnon are very interested in the axes and what they represent.
Last summer the two men got a good look at the old tools and, thanks to some intensive research on the Internet, were able to match the symbols on the blades, indicating they had been crafted from iron ore mined in Spain around 1640.
“These trade axes are just awesome,” Gagnon said. “They looked like a metal hatchet, [and] on the sides were stamped a cross within a circle.”
According to Dumond and Gagnon, the trade axes — so called because French and British trappers and colonists traded them for furs with the area’s Native American residents — probably found their way to northern Maine thanks to the Acadians who came to Maine around that time.
Both men say they have Acadian and Native roots in their family genealogies and are fascinated by what the blades represent.
Click for the rest of the story by Julia Bayly in the Bangor Daily News.