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About Kenora


Known as the “Premier Boating Destination of North America,” Kenora is a vibrant city situated on the north shore of beautiful Lake of the Woods. Kenora boasts more than sixteen thousand year-round residents, each one looking forward to welcoming newcomers to this part of the world. Whether you want to experience unmatched wilderness adventure or enjoy water activities such as boating, fishing or simply splashing in the water at one of our five pristine beaches, Kenora has a timeless appeal that is sure to please.

Aside from the undisturbed beauty of our natural attractions, Kenora hosts annual festivals and events that attract tens of thousands of visitors each year. Many of these annual events take place under the tent at the Harbourfront, which is the gateway to Kenora’s Cultural Arts Center.

The City of Kenora is a unique, multi-generational travel destination with something for everyone. Our city is alive year-round, no matter what the weather. We may be a bit biased – however, we think no other place offers the unusual mix of entertainment options you’re sure to find in this part of Sunset Country. Don’t take our word for it – come find out for yourself!

Rich in History and Culture

Our Lake of the Woods lies upon Precambrian bedrock that is among the oldest geological formations on earth.  The Lake of the Woods, along with its 14,542 islands, is actually a remnant of Lake Agassiz, making this region a centre of human activity for the past 8,000 years owing to an abundance of fur-bearing animals, namely the muskrat.

The earliest inhabitants of Kenora were native hunters who wandered the area in pursuit of big game animals. By the time the first European explorers arrived in the late 17th century, the natives living on the shores of the lake were more settled than their ancestors and relied on hunting, fishing and gathering for their livelihood. The Natives referred to the north end of the lake as Wauzhushk Onigum, which literally translated means “portage to the country of the muskrat.”

Trade Route of the Late 18th & 19th Centuries

During the fur-trading period, the location of the Lake of the Woods on the main east-to-west water route made it critically important for trade – so much so that it became an area of rivalry between two leading fur-trading companies, the Hudson’s Bay and North West Companies. The keen competition ended in 1821 when the two companies amalgamated as the Hudson’s Bay Company.

By 1836, a post had been set up on Old Fort Island on the Winnipeg River, and for obvious reasons, it was named The Rat Portage post (a shortened and corrupted version of the translation of the original name Wauzhushk Onigum, meaning “portage to the country of the muskrat.”).  In 1861, this post was moved to the mainland, and around it grew the community of Rat Portage, which is now the City of Kenora.

Ontario-Manitoba Boundary Dispute

The early town of Rat Portage was little more than a small clearing in the bush with a meandering row of shanties along the shoreline. However, this rustic little town was to become the main object of interest in the Ontario-Manitoba boundary dispute, which lasted from 1870 to 1884. Each of the provinces claimed the town as part of their territory. Both provinces had jails in the town, and both issued titles to mining claims and timber licences. Even though Rat Portage, Manitoba, was incorporated as a municipality in 1882, on September 28, 1883, polling took place to elect members to the Provincial Legislatures of both provinces. Finally in 1884, the Privy Council of England, to which the dispute had been taken, decided in favour of Ontario. The ruling became official in 1889.

Early Influences of Commercial Industries

Like many cities, Kenora’s origins were based on commercial interests. Although development of the town was initially retarded by the Ontario-Manitoba boundary dispute, construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1880s gave great credence to Rat Portage because of its geographical location. Soon Rat Portage became a major supply and distribution centre for the burgeoning lumber industry, and The Keewatin Lumber Company, Western Lumber, Rat Portage Lumber, and Dick & Banning established themselves in the area.

Several saw mills operating around Rat Portage served both Canadian lumber companies and Minnesota operations, which sent their timber to the town by steamer. By the late 19th century, freight, lumber, and passenger steamers plied the waters of the lake, many of them having their home port in Rat Portage. The Lady of the Lake was the first important steamboat on Lake of the Woods, which also began an important era of entertainment on the lake.

Soon other industries made their home in the area, including the Lake of the Woods Milling Company. Milling, of course, developed due to the available water power at the outlets of the Lake of the Woods into the Winnipeg River. Another major event in Kenora’s history was the discovery of gold in the latter part of the 19th century. Of course, like other industries, gold mining also contributed to an increase in activity and settlement of the area. Still, at this time the original name of Rat Portage was in place, and it was not until 1905 that the community changed the name to Kenora.

What’s in a Name?

Though many may have enjoyed the warmth of muskrat fur from the local animals, some disliked the name of “Rat.” Apparently, dissatisfaction with the name of Rat Portage was expressed by residents of the town over the years, but it took a final push by commercial entities to initiate a change. The Maple Leaf Flour Company is the primary commercial organization credited with the city’s name change: The Company reportedly refused to build their factory here because they didn’t want the word “rat” on their flour bags. The town created a new name formed by combining three things: the first two letters of Keewatin, a sister town; Norman, an adjacent village; and Rat Portage.  Hence, the City of Kenora was born.

From Mill town to Travel Destination

The Backus-Brooks paper mill began operations in Kenora in 1923 and was for many years the town’s major employer. As the town developed economically, support services and cultural activities flourished, as well. Schools, hospitals, churches, hotels, a library and an opera house eventually appeared on the scene. From these humble beginnings, Kenora continues to grow, economically and culturally, and is now prominent in the tourism, lumbering, mining, milling, and commercial fishing industries of the world.

Now situated on the busy Trans-Canada Highway and at the gateway to both Lake of the Woods and over 3,000 square miles of recreational country to the north, Kenora today is a bustling tourist centre and host to a number of annual festivals and events, welcoming tens of thousands of visitors each year.

Learn what Kenora has to offer

Visit Kenora for an unforgettable experience

Aside from the undisturbed beauty of our natural attractions, Kenora hosts annual festivals and events that attract tens of thousands of visitors each year. Many of these annual events take place under the tent at the Harbourfront, which is the gateway to Kenora’s Cultural Arts Center.