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Find out about the exciting new learning tool, Northwest to the Pacific: A Fur Trade Odyssey




Fort William Historical Park is a provincially-funded historic site operated by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism.  Through its living history program, the Fort depicts the fur trade activities of the North West Company at Fort William Historical Park, inland headquarters and site of the Company's annual Rendezvous from 1803-1821. 


In 1971 the Ontario Government announced it would reconstruct Fort William Historical Park, located nine miles up from the original site near the mouth of the Kaministiquia River.

The original site is occupied by the CP railway installation in Thunder Bay's "East End". With the occupation of the railway and the surrounding industrial and residential development, reconstruction at the original site became unfeasible and too costly. The current site known geographically as Pointe de Meuron, is set away from intrusive modernisms and is historically linked to the original Fort William Historical Park. The area was used as an encampment by de Meuron mercenaries who helped Lord Selkirk of the Hudson Bay Company take over Fort William in August of 1816. The De Meurons camped at this point before rowing boats to the NWCo post.

On July 3, 1973 Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip officially opened the Fort William Historical Park for public visitation. At that time, only three buildings were open for interpretation. Today, the entire site is interpreted with the exception of a few buildings reserved for modern functions. The historic site consists of 42 reconstructed buildings on a 25 acre site, representing a capital investment by the Province of Ontario of 15 million dollars. It is one of the largest living history sites on the continent. Since opening, it has attracted over two million people. The site employs 27 full time personnel for interpretive, maintenance, marketing and clerical duties with an additional 100 to 130 seasonal contract and summer staff.

The living History program, combined with catering, special events and other partnership initiatives, combine to attract 100,000 visitors annually.

Fur Trade Society at Fort William
The Rendezvous reflected the interdependent relationships with the various peoples involved in the fur trade, including the Scots, French Canadians and the Natives predominating. These groups paralleled the basic social divisions in the business: the merchant-traders, voyageur-labourers and the hunter-trappers.

Agents, Partners, Clerks
The managerial class were comprised mostly of men of Scottish descent. The Montreal agents held controlling interest in the firm, arranged for the importing and transportation of trade goods and marketed the furs. The Wintering Partners supervised the inland departments while the clerks kept records, handled correspondence and managed lesser posts. Each year, this group met collectively to evaluate the year's collection of furs, assembled goods for each interior department and laid plans for the future.

Engages: Voyageurs, Tradesmen, Farmers
The Engages, or labourers were mostly French Canadians employed by the NWCo. Their name is derived form the contract or engagement each man had with the Company. The vast majority were voyageurs who paddled the canoes and portaged goods and furs. The Montrealers who journeyed between the East and Fort William were known as Mangeurs du Lard, or Porkeaters. Those who worked in the western interior were known as Hivernants, or Winterers. Except for the guides who knew the canoe routes, most voyageurs camped outside the palisade at Fort William. There were other engages who were employed as tradesmen who repaired and manufactured trade goods and maintained the Fort. There were also farm labourers to look after livestock and raise crops.

The Natives: Ojibwa
The local Anishinabe (Ah-nish-ah-nah-bay) people associated with Fort William are called the Ojibwa. They are also known as the Chippewa in the USA and Saulteaux in the west.

The Natives played a crucial role in the fur trade for it was their technology, especially the birch bark canoe and snowshoe, which enabled the Europeans to succeed in the fur trade. Trapping, hunting, harvesting, fishing, and guiding were other important skills. Native Ojibwa around the Fort often worked in the canoe sheds and farm area.

Free Canadians and the Metis were those who worked on their own in the interior. Many were of mixed blood descent. Some performed piecemeal labour for the Company.

The Ojibwa were primarily hunters, trappers and fishermen, and at times, raised a few crops. They were also noted for their extensive use of wild plants, both for food and medicinal purposes. Wild rice was almost a staple crop and maple sap was collected wherever possible. They were very adept at using a wide range of natural resources.

The Ojibwa had a society known as the Medewin, which was composed of both men and women and which was devoted to the curing of the sick. It has been often referred to as the first medical society of Ontario.

More on The Natives:
Population and Distribution
During the 1800's, estimates indicate there were about 150 Ojibwa in the vicinity of Fort William. It is probable that there were no more than 400 between Lac des Milles Lacs and Grand Portage.

Alexander Henry the younger estimated the collective population of the natives in the area of Kaministiquia, Milles Lacs and Lac des Chiens together in 1805 as follows: Men--70 Women--84 Children--178

Some Natives apparently made Fort William their base of operations and lived and worked at the Fort for all or most of the year. Others lived further afield; these Natives came to the Fort in the autumn to receive their credits and returned in the spring with their furs. In addition, the North West Company sent trader-interpreters out from Fort William to the Natives in their hunting grounds.

...(more information on the history of the Fort)


Learn about...
How it began
The NWCo
Agents, Partners &
Engages: Voyageurs,
Tradesmen &
The Natives
More on the Natives

...It is one of the largest living history sites on the continent...


...Since opening, it has attracted over two million people...


...The Natives played a crucial role in the fur trade for it was their technology, especially the birch bark canoe and snowshoe, which enabled the Europeans to succeed in the Fur Trade...

littlesun Don't forget to check out some of our Upcoming Events    


Fort William Historical Park is located in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.

Contact Fort William Historical Park today to begin planning your adventure!



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