Fort Edmonton

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Fort Edmonton (also named Edmonton House) was the name of a series of trading posts of the Hudson's Bay Company from 1795 to 1891, all of which were located in central Alberta, Canada. From 1795 to 1821 it was paired with the North West Company's Fort Augustus. It was the end point of the Carlton Trail, the main overland route for Metis freighters between the Red River Colony and the west and an important stop on the York Factory Express route between London, via Hudson Bay, and Fort Vancouver in the Columbia District.

The fifth and final Fort Edmonton was the one that evolved into present-day Edmonton.

Fort Edmonton was also called Fort-des-Prairies, by French-Canadians trappers and coureurs des bois, and Amiskwaskahegan or "Beaver Hills House" by the Cree Indians during the 19th century.[1][2]

Fort Edmonton, Mark I (1795–1801)[edit]

In the late 18th century, the Hudson's Bay Company was in fierce competition with the North West Company for the trade of animal furs in Rupert's Land. As one company established a fur trading post, the other would counter by building another post in close proximity. Expansion down the Saskatchewan River began in the 1790s. In the summer of 1795, the North West Company constructed Fort Augustus where the Sturgeon River (Alberta) meets the North Saskatchewan River near the present-day city of Fort Saskatchewan. In the following autumn, Hudson's Bay constructed Edmonton House nearby, where the Sturgeon River meets the North Saskatchewan River 34 km northeast of modern Edmonton. In a possible revelation of the competitive nature of the companies, Fort Augustus and Edmonton House's distance was described as being a "musket-shot" apart,[3] yet the proximity also offered mutual security to the European traders of both companies in a land where they were all intruders.[4]

Fort Edmonton was named by John Peter Pruden, clerk to the HBC's George Sutherland. The Fort was named after Edmonton, Middlesex, England, birthplace of both Pruden and HBC Deputy Governor Sir James Winter Lake.[5]

Fort Edmonton, Mark II (1801–1810)[edit]

In 1801, due to several years of declining fur returns and increasingly scarce firewood, it was decided to move Fort Edmonton and Fort Augustus upstream, to what is now the Rossdale area of downtown Edmonton. This area had been a gathering place for aboriginals in the region for thousands of years.[3]

The first woman of European descent to live in this region was the French-Canadian Marie-Anne Gaboury, who was also noteworthy as the grandmother of Louis Riel. She had accompanied her fur trader husband, Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière, into the west, and was known to take part in hunting expeditions. They lived in Fort Augustus from 1807 to 1811.

John Rowand, chief factor at Fort Edmonton from 1823 to 1854, first worked at Fort Augustus from 1804 to 1806; he was stationed there again from 1808 onward.[6]

Fort Edmonton, Mark III (1810–1812)[edit]

Both Fort Augustus and Fort Edmonton moved to the mouth of White Earth Creek, 100 km northeast of modern Edmonton at the northernmost point of the North Saskatchewan near present-day Smoky Lake, Alberta. This location was only active for two years for two main reasons: the Cree had been encouraged to visit other posts to avoid violent confrontations with the Blackfoot, yet the Blackfoot refused to travel so far off of their normal circles and consequently took their trade south to Americans.

The two posts shared a palisade from this time forward.

Fort Edmonton, Mark IV (1813–1830)[edit]

Fort Edmonton and Fort Augustus moved back to the second site at the Rossdale flats, it having proven to be a site more amenable for the tribes to visit.

The name Fort Augustus was dropped following the merger of the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company in 1821. After the amalgamation of the companies (which thereafter used the Hudson's Bay Company name), Fort Edmonton became the headquarters for the Saskatchewan District, which stretched from the Canadian Rocky Mountains in the west to Fort Carlton in the east; from the 49th parallel in the south to Lesser Slave Lake in the north. The former Nor' Wester John Rowand was placed in charge of Edmonton in 1821 as chief trader. In 1823, Rowand was promoted to chief factor. Rowand managed Saskatchewan District from Fort Edmonton until his death in 1854.

Fort Edmonton, Mark V (1830–1915)[edit]

Due to floods in the late 1820s, the Fort on the Rossdale flats had to be moved to higher ground.[3] This fifth and final fort was built on the site that is now inhabited by the Alberta Legislature Building.[7]

Rowand's administration[edit]

Fort Edmonton Park

At this time, a long-serving member of the HBC, John Edward Harriott, became the chief trader under Rowand. The two gained family ties when Harriott married one of Rowand's daughters. On a couple of occasions when Rowand joined HBC Inland Governor George Simpson for travel abroad, Harriott acted as chief factor.

Rowand's administration from the 1830s onward coincided with a great change in the Saskatchewan District. For the first time, missionaries, artists, and curious travellers came to Edmonton to visit, sometimes for extended periods, which frustrated Rowand to some degree. Prior to this time, the only Europeans to come that far into the west were men on some sort of company business.

With Rowand having made Edmonton his home, the fort became an important centre in the west. It was a necessity for any traveller going any further west of Edmonton to go through there for provisions first. Rowand constructed a three-storey house in the heart of the fort for the exclusive use of him and his family, denoting his station to his subordinates, visitors and trade partners alike.

Influx of missionaries[edit]

Two Catholic missionaries, Francois-Norbert Blanchet and Modeste Demers, were the first to visit Fort Edmonton (called Fort-des-Prairies) in 1838.[8] Starting in 1840, the Fort housed the Wesleyan missionary Robert Rundle as a company chaplain. Rundle's tenure lasted until 1848, and his ministry and missionary work was met with competition of a sort by Jean-Baptiste Thibault, a Catholic priest who, like Rundle, was attempting to evangelize natives in the area. A chapel was erected inside the fort in 1843, which the Reverend Rundle boasted could host "(one) hundred Indians"; the structure also had two small rooms for Rundle's private use.[9] Meanwhile, Rowand complained that the presence of ministers in his fort was a distraction for the natives, and was ostensibly impeding the fur trade business.[10] On a personal level, however, Rowand had taken a liking to Rundle, and entrusted the minister with teaching his children.[11]

In 1852, the Oblate missionary Albert Lacombe first visited Fort Edmonton. With Rundle having trouble controlling the department in 1848, Lacombe easily took up residence in the former Methodist chapel. Lacombe took pity on the fur trade labourers, opining that, "during the summer months, [Hudson's Bay labourers' toil] was as hard as that of the African slave.".[12] He found little sympathy for the workers from John Rowand or the HBC clerks. The following year, Lacombe moved to Lac St. Anne, but had a new Catholic chapel constructed in the fort in 1857 (but did not dwell there); this chapel lasted nearly twenty years before being moved outside of the fort.

A Methodist follow-up to Robert Rundle, Reverend Thomas Woolsey, was dispatched to Edmonton in 1852. His arrival in the fort coincided with Lacombe's residency in the former Methodist chapel, a discovery which distressed Woolsey. Conflicts and private frustrations with Catholic missionaries, and failures to convert Catholics to Protestantism, marked Woolsey's twelve-year residence at the fort.

In 1854, the mission St. Joachim was officially founded in turn at Fort-des-Praires (Fort Edmonton).

Oregon Mission[edit]

This watercolor with a scale diagram of the Fort was drawn by Vavasour in 1846.

Though somewhat distant from the territory in question, Fort Edmonton, an important stop on the York Factory Express overland trade route, was peripherally involved in the Oregon Boundary Dispute. A pair of British Army Lieutenants, Mervin Vavasour and Henry James Warre, were sent on a mission in the guise of eccentric gentlemen to reconnoitre the lower Columbia River valley and Puget Sound. Among other objectives, they were to determine which HBC posts could be used in a military conflict.[13][14] The trip had been encouraged by Sir George Simpson Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company. Warre and Vavasour reported that the mountain passes were unsuitable for troop transport. Their mission took them through Fort Edmonton in the fall of 1845, and again on their way back to Montreal in 1846. They wrote: "Without attempting to describe the numerous Defiles through which we passed, or the difficulty of forcing a passage through the burnt Forests, and over the high land, we may venture to assert, that Sir George Simpson's idea of transporting troops. . . with their stores, etc. through such an extent of uncultivated Country and over such impracticable Mounatins would appear to Us quite unfeasible." As with other forts he visited on this mission, Vavasour drew a plan of Edmonton.

Other notable visitors[edit]

Artist Paul Kane's romanticized painting of the fifth fort (1849 from 1846 sketch), displaying Rowand's house rising high above the palisade.

The artist Paul Kane first visited the fort in 1845. He produced several works of art based upon his time there.

Rowand's end[edit]

In May 1854, John Rowand died while accompanying the annual York Boat trip eastward. Accounts suggest that he tried to break up (or join) a skirmish between some of the tripmen while at Fort Pitt, and in his rage he fell suddenly dead. He was initially buried at Fort Pitt, but was later exhumed and buried in Montreal as per his last will and testament.[15]

Remaining Years[edit]

Remaining administrators[edit]

Following a few short-lived administrations in Rowand's wake, William J. Christie was a long-lasting chief factor at Edmonton from 1858 to 1872. Christie's protégé Richard Charles Hardisty, later a Canadian Senator, served as chief factor in Edmonton for an interim period from 1862 through 1864.

The Hudson's Bay Company relinquished Rupert's Land to the Government of Canada in 1868, pursuant to the Rupert's Land Act 1868, thus ending the HBC's administration of the vast territory and beginning an era of settlement in the 1870s.

By the 1890s, the fort was in disrepair and largely abandoned. The Hudson's Bay Company transitioned to retail stores, and business in Edmonton ran from one of those instead.

Explorers[edit]

In 1841 James Sinclair stopped at Fort Edmonton to receive instructions on where to cross the Rockies; while leading a party of nearly 200 settlers from the Red River Colony to Fort Vancouver in an attempt to hold Columbia District for Britain,

Captain John Palliser stayed in Fort Edmonton for a time in 1858 while on his famous expedition. With the help of the factor's wife, Palliser held a ball there.[16]

In 1859, the 9th Earl of Southesk visited on his way to the Rocky Mountains, hoping that the fresh mountain air would improve his health.[17]

Under threat of warfare[edit]

The spring of 1870 saw Fort Edmonton come under the threat of violence due to a war between the Blackfoot and Cree, resulting from the slaying of Cree Chief Maskipiton. The Blackfoot were unable to ford the North Saskatchewan due to the high spring waters, but they encamped across from Fort Edmonton and harassed it with their muskets nonetheless. Some wagons full of goods had to be abandoned by traders in a hurry to reach safety inside of the fort, and their contents were spoiled by the Blackfoot. Though the fort itself was not invaded, the men within were armed and ready to fight. Chief Factor William J. Christie chose to withstand the Blackfoot and not attack them, fearing that to do so would only invite further violence against the Hudson's Bay Company.[18]

Fifteen years later, on March 19, 1885, during the North West Rebellion, Edmonton's telegraph wire was cut. Fearing imminent attack, some settlers took shelter behind the fort's old wooden palisade. No attack happened.[19]

Fort Edmonton, near the new Legislature Building, 1914.

Dismantling[edit]

What remained of the fort was dismantled in 1915. It was seen as a crumbling eyesore next to the Alberta Legislature Building, which had been completed three years earlier.[20] The Government of Alberta indicated at the time that it would use the old fort's timbers to create a heritage site elsewhere in the city, but it never did.

List of chief factors[edit]

Legacy[edit]

A Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque installed in 1996 in Edmonton to commemorate the Fort Edmonton-Fort Gary Trail.

In 1923 the suspected site of the original Forts Augustus and Edmonton was a National Historic Site of Canada, and a plaque was placed in Fort Saskatchewan. In 1959, the site of Fort Edmonton III was also made a National Historic Site and plaque was installed near the Alberta Legislature building. Similarly the Fort Edmonton-Fort Gary Trail was also named a National Historic Site and a plaque for it was installed in Edmonton in 1996.

Reconstruction[edit]

In 1969, a reconstruction of the fifth Fort Edmonton began five kilometres upstream from its final site, representing it as it stood in 1846, but this time on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River. This marked the beginning of Fort Edmonton Park, which has become one of the city's premier tourist attractions. The park represents, through various historical buildings, four distinct time periods, exploring Edmonton's development from a fur trade post in the vast Northwest, to a booming metropolitan centre after the First World War.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fort-des-Prairies
  2. ^ Naming Edmonton: from Ada to Zoie, (ed.) Merrily K. Aubrey, University of Alberta Press, Edmonton (Alta.), 2004, Edmonton Historical Board, Heritage Sites Committee. p. 18
  3. ^ a b c Fort Edmonton
  4. ^ Goyette, L. & Roemmich, C.: "Edmonton in Our Own Words", 25. University of Alberta Press, 2005.
  5. ^ [Frederick William Howay: Builders of the West (Ryerson, 1929)]
  6. ^ INDIAN TERRITORIES (ALBERTA) 1800–1829
  7. ^ Canadian Parliamentary Review – Article
  8. ^ Goyette, L. & Roemmich, C.: "Edmonton In Our Own Words", 30. University of Alberta Press, 2005.
  9. ^ Rundle, R: "The Rundle Journals", 143-44. Ed. Gerald Hutchinson. Glenbow Institute, 1977.
  10. ^ Goyette, L. & Roemmich, C.: "Edmonton in Our Own Words", 56. University of Alberta Press, 2005.
  11. ^ Rundle, R: "The Rundle Journals", xliii. Ed. Gerald Hutchinson. Glenbow Institute, 1977
  12. ^ Goyette, L. & Roemmich, C.: "Edmonton in Our Own Words", 59. University of Alberta Press, 2005.
  13. ^ ABCBookWorld
  14. ^ Cover Story – Warre's War
  15. ^ Goyette, L. & Roemmich, C.: "Edmonton in Our Own Words", 68-69. University of Alberta Press, 2005.
  16. ^ John Palliser and Henry Hind – The Arctic and More – 19th Century – Pathfinders and Passageways
  17. ^ Alberta museum lands bulk of rare aboriginal collection
  18. ^ Goyette, L. & Roemmich, C.: "Edmonton in Our Own Words", 109-112. University of Alberta Press, 2005.
  19. ^ Goyette, L. & Roemmich, C.: "Edmonton in Our Own Words", 143. University of Alberta Press, 2005.
  20. ^ Real Estate Weekly

Bibliography[edit]

  • Silversides, Brock (2005). Fort de Prairies: The Story of Fort Edmonton. Surrey, BC: Heritage House Publishing. ISBN 1-894384-98-9. 
  • Goyette, Linda; Carolina Jakeway Roemmich (2004). Edmonton: In Our Own Words. Edmonton, AB: University of Alberta Press. ISBN 0-88864-449-3. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 53°31′55″N 113°30′24″W / 53.53194°N 113.50667°W / 53.53194; -113.50667