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.
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
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
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
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
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.
information on the history of the Fort)