4. Explorers, Traders & Map Makers – the Fur Trade Period, 1670-1870

The Fur Trade in BTNHR and Southern Manitoba

The Boundary Trail National Heritage Region (BTNHR) is exceptionally rich in terms of fur trade era sites and events. While its largely prairie/parkland natural landscape prevented it producing large numbers of furs and pelts, the Region was nevertheless well known to fur traders and explorers throughout the entire 200 year interior fur trade period. It was the location of some of the earliest fur trading posts and most significant events, and its rivers and forests were explored by some of the best-known fur traders and map makers. It was the first Region in the west to be a source of pemmican, the main food for the canoe and ox-cart freighting brigades. And it was the birthplace of the famous Red River Cart and home to some of the earliest Métis settlements in western Canada. Following is a brief history of the interior fur trade with specific reference to the Red River region and the BTNHR.

 French vs English

The fabled North West Passage was the prize that the earliest explorers such as Henry Hudson in 1610 and Thomas Button in 1612 were searching, as it was for many who followed them.  What they found instead was the bleak, barren, shores of Hudson Bay which did not offer a way to China but, however, gave early promise of furs – much valued in Europe at the time.  It remained for two Frenchmen, Radisson and Groseilliers, who in 1681, by land, traveled to and explored the region south of Hudson and James bays returning to Montreal with many valuable furs to confirm the Region’s great abundance of furs.  Because of a quarrel with the authorities in New France, the two explorers transferred their services to England. In 1668, Groseilliers sailed into James Bay on the ‘Nonsuch’ and returned to England the next year with a rich cargo of furs.  As a result of this success, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) or ”the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay” was formed in 1670 by Royal Charter granted by Charles II giving the Company exclusive trading rights to the Hudson Bay watershed. It was destined to become the oldest Company in the world.

Over the next few years, the HBC constructed and staffed three trading posts on James Bay: Moose Fort; Fort Charles, and Fort Albany. Over the next few decades, as these posts attracted more and more Indigenous traders, the HBC established additional ‘tidewater’ posts on the shores of Hudson Bay at the mouths of the Severn, Nelson, and Churchill rivers. York Factory, at the mouth of the Nelson River, would later become a major distribution point and post for the HBC.

 While the English fur traders were coming to present day Manitoba by sea, the French, also in search of the ‘western sea’, were coming by land.  Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye, the first European to explore what is now southern Manitoba, established a series of forts in the Red River – Lake Winnipeg region during the 1730s. These included Fort Maurepas at the mouth of the Red River; Fort Rouge at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers; Fort La Reine on the Assiniboine River near Portage la Prairie; Fort Dauphin in 1739 near Lake Winnipegosis, and Fort Bourbon in 1741 on Cedar Lake near the mouth of the Saskatchewan River. These trading posts they began to intercept much of the Indigenous fur traffic headed to the HBC posts on shores of Hudson’s Bay.

Click images to enlarge.


Left: In 1742 La Vérendrye’s two son’s reached the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in their search for the western sea. During their explorations the La Vérendrye’s traversed the current BTNHR region several times and camped on the northern slopes of Turtle Mountain.



Right: La Vérendrye Travels and Forts. In 1738, Pierre La Vérendrye and his two sons visited the Mandans on the Missouri River. Departing from Fort La Reine, they travelled by way of Turtle Mountain and the Souris River Valley. During his trip to the Mandans in 1738, La Verendrye followed an established Native trail, which passed over the Pembina Hills and on to the Turtle Mountain.  From his journal description, it appears that his party camped overnight at Calf Mountain. In 1742, his sons, Pierre and Francois, travelled the same route on another visit to the Mandans.  (Batchscher,1979: 63)

End of the French Fur Trade

The French-administered fur trade ended in 1760 when, following the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, New France was ceded to Britain. Very quickly, however, the new English business elite taking up residence in Quebec and Montreal set up their own operations in pursuit of the rich fur trade the French had lost. Many of posts and employees were much the same as under the French, only with different bosses. These independent fur traders initially used French Canadian ‘coureur des bois’ to paddle their canoes from Montreal to the western plains, trade with the resident Indigenous groups for their furs, and bring those furs to Montreal. The fierce competition amongst themselves and the enormously expensive distances involved led to a union of most of the investors into the North West Company (NWC) in 1784. The XY Fur Trade Company (XYC) was also formed at this time and, for a time, successfully competed with its larger rivals. There were also a number of short-lived ‘Canadian independent’ traders and American Fur Company posts constructed in what is now southern Manitoba in the years immediately following the fall of New France.   

After the formation of the NW and XY trading companies, competition with the HBC increased significantly, with all three companies building new trading posts in attempt to get the Natives’ furs before the others could. Between 1790 and 1816, about 15 different trading posts were established in the Brandon-Swan River district alone, along with a similar number being built in the lower Red and Assiniboine rivers district. Most of the heavy manual labour in the fur trade, especially in the NWC was undertaken by mixed-blood French-Catholic Métis workers, with English-Protestant “country born’ workers supplying the labour for HBC operations. 

This early fur trade period was a time of intense competition especially between the NW C and the HBC.  During this period, all the major companies frequently moved the locations of their posts, all of which were located along the Region’s waterways, serving as the main transportation routes.  Large ‘freighter canoes’ and ‘bateaux’ (flat bottomed rafts) were the main water craft at the time. Eventually, longer-lived major posts were established at strategic locations along the waterways. Employees stationed at these ‘regional’ posts were often sent out to establish small sub-posts or ‘wintering houses’ at  one or two days travel distant from the main post,  to intercept Indigenous hunters and trappers before they were able to journey to rival posts in the Region. These wintering houses were often abandoned after only two or three years especially if they did not take in sufficient amounts of furs, pelts or pemmican to make the venture profitable.

There were two locations in the current BTNHR that supported such long-lived ‘regional’ posts, at the forks of the Red and Pembina rivers and the area of the forks of the Assiniboine and Souris rivers. As well, the company employees at these posts were often sent out to build smaller wintering posts in the surrounding hinterland. Thus, the BTNHR possesses a long and colourful fur trade history past with major posts and temporary wintering houses having been established at various locations in and near the Region.

 Souris River Mouth Posts

One of the first European fur traders to explore the Turtle Mountain – Souris Plains region after the fall of New France was Alexander Henry, a prominent Hudson’s Bay Company trader and explorer who passed through the region in 1776 while on a trading mission to the Mandan villages. He reported that the resident Assiniboine were now in possession of large numbers of horses and, as La Verendrye reported three decades earlier, they still seemed quite indifferent to the white man’s trade goods, having ‘all they needed in the buffalo.(KN:3)

In 1785, the NWC established Pine Fort on the Assiniboine River a short distance downstream of the mouth of the Souris River to trade furs and, more importantly, to obtain corn, bean, and squash from the Mandan and pemmican from the Assiniboine Indians. These provisions were needed to feed the voyageurs on their long canoe trips from the Prairies to Montreal. The HBC quickly followed suit and erected Brandon House on the Assiniboine River just up steam from mouth of the Souris River. 

In 1793, the newly established XYC. led by Sir Alexander MacKenzie instructed its agent, Peter Grant, to build a provisioning post of its own near the mouth of the Souris in support of its growing network of trading posts. This prompted the NWC to abandon Pine Fort and erect a new post ‘Assiniboine House’ that they built in near to both HBC Brandon House Peter Grant’s XY posts. The three rival posts remained relatively profitable though few furs were taken in; mostly buffalo and wolf pelts as well as pemmican were taken in. The three posts operated in near proximity to each other for over a decade without incident. The staff  were on friendly terms and socialized frequently.  

In 1805, the XYC merged with the NWC, and both XYC ‘Fort Souris’ and NWC ‘Assiniboine House’ were torn down and replaced by a nearby new larger post which was named NWC ‘Fort Riviére la Souris’.

HBC Brandon House c1810.

Left: Artist’s impression of Brandon House, circa 1810, based on archaeological evidence. (HRB)

Souris River & Turtle Mountain Out-posts

During the late 1790s and early 1800s, during the peak of fur trade rivalries, short lived ‘wintering outposts’ were commonly built to intercept Indians travelling to the major posts to trade. In the autumn of 1795, the Chief Factor of NWC ‘Assiniboine House’ sent men and supplies up the Souris River with instructions to establish a wintering house. The group erected a site on the left bank of the Souris River just south of present day Deloraine. NWC ‘Ash house’ operated for only a single season.  A possible reason for its brief use was noted by David Thompson in December 1797, who, while travelling up the Souris River stopped briefly at the recently abandoned post, noting in his journal that ‘…it had to be given up from it’s being too close to the incursions of the Sioux Indians.” 

As well, in 1797, the Missouri Fur Company issued a declaration forbidding British subjects, such as David Thompson, from trading in the Missouri River drainage basin. Thereafter, trading south of the Assiniboine River slowly shifted from trading with the Missouri River Mandan to trading with the Turtle Mountain Assiniboine. The Assiniboine increasingly become a major supplier of pemmican for the various fur trade transport brigades and the Assiniboine River provision posts remained critical elements in the profitability of the various fur trade companies.  

In 1801, prairie fires swept across the Souris plains affecting trade and prompting the HBC to establish a sub-post on the northern slopes of Turtle Mountain “so “Indians from the south would not have to cross the burned out plain to reach Brandon house.” (KA:18) The next season, the NWC and XYC both constructed wintering posts ‘on the edge of Turtle Mountain’.  However, trade was further disrupted by growing tribal conflicts, with the Assiniboine fleeing the Turtle Mountain due to the arrival of Gros Ventre and war parties of Sioux having been sighted in the region. As a result, trade for furs and provisions was very poor at Turtle Mountain that winter and, in the spring, all traders retreated to their respective establishments around the mouth of the Souris.

The situation soon improved, because, in 1806, Alexander Henry the Younger, on a journey to the Mandans, reported that the Assiniboine were back in the Pembina Hills – Souris plains region and still lived according to a pure buffalo economy. Henry Jr. also noted in his journal during that trip that HBC Lena House was once again functioning as a winter post. (KN:3 &:19)  

An interesting ‘Map of the Red River District, 1819’ by Peter Fidler. North is to bottom of this unusual but informative map.

NWC ‘Fort Riviére la Souris’ remained the Company’s main post on the Assiniboine until the amalgamation of the NWC and HBC in 1821 under the HBC banner. Many trading posts immediately became redundant and were closed soon after and abandoned, including HBC Brandon house II and its various outposts.  A third HBC Brandon House was constructed in 1828 but operated for only six seasons before the Souris mouth area was permanently abandoned by the HBC, who chose to develop the more strategically located  Fort Ellice, near the mouth of the Qu’appelle River, as the Company’s sole post on the Assiniboine River. (Smyth, 1968:131.)

Pembina Mouth Trading Posts

The mouth of the Pembina River was a strategic and very well-known site. A long series of posts and forts were constructed in the area, especially during the early fur-trade era. The earliest known trading post at this site was a ‘Canadian Independent’ post built in 1793 known as ‘Grant’s House’. In 1796, Charles Baptiste Chaboillé built ‘Rat River House’, a wintering post at the mouth of the Rat River, for the NWC – its first post on the Red River. However, after a single season, the site was abandoned and NWC “Fort Pambian” was erected at the mouth of the Pembina River. Four years later, in 1801, Alexander Henry (the younger), the new Superintendent for the Lower Red River Region, arrived and replaced that post with a nearby larger one. Within a couple of years of the construction of NWC Fort Pambian, opposition posts operated by the HBC and XYC were erected in the immediate vicinity. Because of the threat of Sioux attacks, all of these posts were fairly substantial structures with sturdy blockades, ramparts and guard towers.   

Forts Daer and HBC Fort Pembina in 1822.

As with the Souris River mouth posts, in order to gain more control of the furs being traded, each of the companies set up smaller outposts at several strategic nearby sites. In most cases the posts were not actually forts, but rather one or two small, quickly constructed log cabins occupied for only one or two winter seasons. In some cases, however, such as with the NWC Red Lake outpost, the furs taken in warranted operating the outpost for several years, necessitating larger buildings and the protection of a timber palisade. 


The Hair Hills Out-Posts

In 1800, Alexander Henry (the younger), decided to set up a Fort Pembina sub-post in the Hair Hills (Pembina Hills). According to his journal on September 4, 1800, he arranged for a guide named Nanaundeyea and three other men to journey into the hills and build a wintering house there. Henry’s guide, Nanaundeyea, is said to have responded that these hills were within the raiding range of the Sioux and suggested that it would be wiser to wait until after the beginning of October before entering the area when the danger of attack by a Sioux war-party would be negligible. In accepting that bit of advice, Alexander Henry forestalled the departure of the work party until October 1st. Two weeks later, Henry himself journeyed to the site of the Hair Hills outpost to inspect their work and explore the local district.

Between 1800 and 1805, at least five separate NW C wintering houses were established in the Pembina Hills area, with locations being moved each winter. After the second winter, in October 1802, Henry reported in his journal that a party of XYC men had departed their post at Pembina bound for the Hair Hills to build a competing post near his own “Langlois’ House”. Direct competition in the Hair Hills area did not seem to affect Langlois’ trading success since, that winter, he acquired almost as many furs as Henry did at Fort Pembina and much more pemmican. The records from these sub-posts indicate that, for a time at least, the region was rich in furs and a considerable amount of trading took place. (Smyth 1968:117) 

Many fur trade posts were short-lived and simply constructed ‘wintering houses’ – sometimes protected with a palisade such in as the scene portrayed above.

Scratching River Out-Posts

In September 1801, the XYC built another sub-post downstream the Red River near the mouth of the Scratching (Morris) River. Not to be outdone, Alexander Henry (the younger) instructed his interpreter, J.B. Desmarais, and five other men to take sufficient supplies and trade goods from the NWC post at Pembina and build a competing outpost at the Scratching River” or “Rivière aux Gratias”, as it was known at the time. The NWC’s Scratching River post proved to be a commercial failure, taking in only 130 beaver skins, seven bags of pemmican and 3.5 packs of furs during the winter of 1801-02. Both it and the XYC post were abandoned after one season.

A New Sort of Cart

Following the relative failure of the Scratching wintering house, Alexander Henry decided to try the Hair Hills district again. In late September 1802, ‘Hair Hills III’ was built at a trail ford across Dead Horse Creek. The site was known as “Pinancewaywining”, and was located a short distance south of present day Morden. The sub-post at Pinancewaywining and another at Red Lake were significant in that they could only be reached overland. All supplies and property had to be brought in using horses. To this end, Henry mentions the use of a “new sort of cart”.  This cart “…facilitates transportation, hauling home meat, etc.  They are about four feet high and perfectly straight; the spokes are perpendicular, without the least bending outward, and only four to each wheel.  These carts carry about five pieces [450-500 lb.] and are drawn by one horse.” (Coues 1897: 205.)  Historians have noted this as the first written reference to the now famous ‘Red River Cart’. The carts used to supply the post at Henry’s Pinancewaywining post are now generally regarded as the prototype model for the Red River Cart, though they are quite clearly not the same vehicle: as among other things the wheels of this cart were not “dished”, and the spokes were far fewer than on the later style Red River Cart. These improvements would be evolve over the years as the cart became more commonly used. 

Métis Red River cart brigade. circa 1835.

The NWC and the XYC merged on November 4, 1804.  News of this merger would have arrived in the west with the arrival of the 1805 spring canoe brigades. Henry responded to the news by closing down half the number of posts he formerly maintained. The former XYC posts along the Red and Assiniboine rivers were also closed and absorbed into the NWC operations.  Without local XYC competition, Henry realized there was less need to go out and actively pursue his clientele. They had to go to him once again. The NWC posts still outnumbered HBC posts by a significant number at the time so NWC business improved considerably after the merger. Nevertheless, as a result of the merger, sub-posts like those in the Hair Hills, Red Lake and elsewhere along the Red River and throughout the west soon disappeared, by-products of a passing phase in the fur trade.

Arrival of the Selkirk Settlers

After the 1805 merger, the new NWC continued their often-friendly relations with their HBC rivals – until the establishment of the HBC-supported the Red River Colony in 1812. In 1810, the Earl of Selkirk bought a controlling interest in the HBC and used his power to obtain a large grant of land, including all of present day southern Manitoba and parts of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, and Minnesota. He then put into effect his plan to settle displaced farmers, “crofters,” from the Scottish Highlands, at HBC Fort Garry. His plan and the settlers were opposed by the NWC and the Métis, both of whom saw their way of life being threatened. When an additional 100 settlers arrived in 1813, they became very agitated and prepared for trouble. 

The HBC Governor, Miles Macdonell, fueled that trouble in 1814, when he issued a proclamation forbidding anyone but the HBC to export pemmican from the Red River region for one year. For decades, pemmican had been the staple food supply of the fur trade and even temporary enforcement of this proclamation would mean financial ruin for the NWC and private traders. So trading in pemmican continued and before long the so-called ‘Pemmican War’ erupted. The HBC raided some private and NWC posts and seized pemmican supplies. In 1815,  NWC employees, or ‘Nor’ Westers’ as they were know, attacked and burned the Red River Settlers’ post, Fort Douglas, along with their windmill, stables and barns – the settlers fleeing in disarray. The new colony governor, Robert Semple, on his way to the settlement with 100 new settlers, met the refugees, brought them back and re-established the settlement. 

One artist’s, somewhat fanciful, impression of the arrival of the Selkirk Settlers at Red River in 1812.

Hostilities only increased the next summer. On June 1, 1816, armed Nor’Westers led by Cuthbert Grant looted and burned Brandon House. On June 19, Grant and his men were intercepted and confronted by Governor Semple and about two dozen armed settlers when they attempted to transport pemmican past the settlement to a NWC post on the Winnipeg River. During a heated verbal exchange, someone fired a shot and a deadly firefight ensued. After the battle, Governor Semple and 20 of the male settlers lay dead, along with a single Nor-Wester, in an event often referred to as the ‘Massacre of Seven Oaks’. The surviving settlers were sent to Lake Winnipeg where they regrouped and camped. Upon hearing of the killings at Red River, in the fall of 1816, Lord Selkirk recruited a private army in Montreal and set out for Red River, capturing the NWC headquarters at Fort William along the way. In the spring he recaptured Fort Douglas, temporarily immobilized the Nor’Westers, and re-established his settlers at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers.

Plan of the Red River Colony circa 1820. Also noted is the “Route of Grant’s horseman” preceding the Battle of Seven Oaks in the summer of 1816.

1821 HBC / NW Company Merger

The competition between the HBC and the NWC had been mutually ruinous and, in 1821, they amalgamated, under the HBC banner. With an end to the competition the new HBC reorganized its vast network of posts and many employees were let go. Especially affected were the Métis and First Nations freighters and food suppliers. While large numbers were still employed, many lost their livelihoods. Some of the Anglo-Scottish employees returned home, others retired to the Red River Colony. Métis settlements were established at St. Vital and St. Norbert on the Red River and St. Francois Xavier on the Assiniboine River. There was also a substantial population of Métis at Pembina and nearby St. Joseph (now Whallaha). In 1822, one year after the HBC and the NWC merger, the American Fur Trade Company began trading in Minnesota developing posts at Red Lake, Sandy Lake, the Minnesota River, Rainy Lake, and Lake of the Woods. American presence and territorial authority increased rapidly thereafter. In 1849, Pembina and, by extension, the Pembina Métis become part of Minnesota Territory prompting many to move north of the international border.

The population at Red River at this time was less than 2,000, most of whom were Métis and Country Born, but also included retired British soldiers and officers; retired or unemployed former HBC and NWC employees, various small groups of Indians, and several hundred Selkirk Settlers. The whites farmed along the Red, but most of the Metis and Natives lived by the twice-annual buffalo hunt which, for years, produced the colony’s only cash crop. The new HBC still required pemmican and furs as well as workers, especially York-boatmen on the northern waterways and ox cart drivers on the growing network of overland trails. Some Métis became illegal independent traders. Due to its virtual monopoly over the fur trade, the HBC was profitable for its shareholders for decades to follow even though demand for furs in Europe was beginning to slow.

The Decline of the Fur Trade in the Red River Region

After the HBC absorbed the NWC in 1821, the new HBC obtained, from the British monarchy, a license for 21 years, granting the amalgamated company a monopoly on trade for the entire British North West Territories. In 1838, the HBC licence was renewed, for an additional 21 years. However, on the expiry of this in 1859, the license was not renewed and trade in the British North West became open to all.

British and Canadian political interest in the territories steadily grew as the fur trade began to decline and American presence on the Great Plains increased. Scientific expeditions were sent out by both the British and Canadian governments (Palliser and Hind Expeditions, 1857-60), to assess the resource and agricultural potential the North West.

New HBC Freight Routes & Modes

 In 1852, the westward expanding railway network in the US reached the banks of the Mississippi River and, within a few short years, steamboat and stagecoach connections reached as far north as St. Paul, Minnesota. With these developments, the HBC soon determined that it would be cheaper to transport furs packets and trade goods to and from its main distribution headquarters at Fort Garry to England, south though the US rather than using the original and arduous Lake Winnipeg/Nelson River/Hudson’s Bay route. In 1857, the HBC arranged with the US Treasury to allow a shipment of 40 tons of HBC goods from England through the US, via St. Paul, as sealed, bonded and duty free goods. The packets would be transported by ship from England to New York and from there by railway to steamboat connections at Salema and La Crosse, Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi River. They would continue on by riverboat to St. Paul, with the last 500 mile leg to Fort Garry completed by ox cart brigade owned and manned by Métis freighters under contract to the HBC. The experiment proved successful and before long the amount of goods being shipped by this route increased tenfold. 

In the spring of 1859, the first steamboat on the Red River, the ‘Anson Northup’ was built on the east bank of the Red River near its confluence with the Sheyenne River. In June, the steamboat made a triumphant trip to HBC Fort Garry at The Forks. The Anson Northup was soon acquired by the HBC and, as the rechristened ‘Pioneer’, began to take over some of the transport duties of the ox cart brigades. The ox cart brigades nevertheless continued to be a major component of HBC freighting network for many years. In 1862, the HBC replaced the “Pioneer” with a 137 foot, 133 ton steamboat, the ‘International’. As owner of the only steamboat on the Red, for the next decade, the HBC enjoyed a monopoly on the freight and passenger business on the Red River. 

HBC International at The Forks, circa 1879.

HBC Post Closures and Reorganization during the 1860s

The HBC was not without competition in the taking in of furs and the selling of merchandise during this period. Independent Métis traders were also travelling to St. Paul to sell furs and purchase goods to be sold or traded in settlements and camps across the Prairies, as well as for personal consumption. Additionally, a few American owned posts were established just south of the border, including St. Joseph (now Walhalla, North Dakota) and Pembina, North Dakota, which attracted clients from north of the border. The border at this time was still open and unsecured.

Although the amount of fur and pemmican being taken in had dropped substantially during the 1860s due to the region being hunted out, the HBC maintained some of its Red River region posts. In 1850, when the location of the boundary was determined to be two miles north of Pembina River mouth, the HBC was obliged to move its post to the north side of the border which was renamed ‘North For Pembina’. During this later fur trade period, Upper Fort Garry became the HBC’s main interior supply and distribution centre. York boats still transported goods on the northern waterways, but ox cart brigades increasingly took over the job of freighting for the HBC in the prairie and parkland regions. Virtually all of the freighters employed by the HBC were of Métis or Indigenous background. As pemmican and other types of ‘bush meat’ were still needed to feed the men of the freight brigades, who had no time for hunting for food, the Métis twice annual bison hunts continued to be an important source of food for the HBC. However, by the early 1860s, the bison herds indigenous to the Red River region were disappearing and hunters had to travel further south and west to find the large herds. Most of the activity in the fur trade at this time was shifting to British Columbia and the Athabasca region. Fort Edmonton was the main distribution point for these northern posts. It was supplied from Fort Garry by annual ox cart brigade using the Saskatchewan Trail. Fort Ellice (near St. Lazare, Manitoba and Fort Carlton, near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) became major stopping points along the Saskatchewan Trail.

HBC Rupertsland Sold to Britain

 The outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 delayed further US expansion in the Dakotas and also delayed British action on acquiring the HBC’s ‘Rupertsland’ territories. However, after the war ended in 1865 growing “manifest destiny” and ‘Irish Fenian’ movements in the US, the British Government moved to take over administration from the HBC and to transfer authority over the west to the newly established Canadian Dominion Government.  

The fur trade was dying anyway so HBC did not protest but sought ways to profit by the settlement to come. In 1969, the Company’s territorial possessions were officially surrendered to the British government for a consideration of 300,000 pounds (approximately $1,500,000) and 1/20 of the lands in the fertile belt, which amounted to almost 3,000,000 acres of potential farmland. 

Township diagram showing Sections 8 and 26 as Hudson’s Bay Company land.

In addition, the HBC was also able to retain sizable land reserves around existing posts. In Manitoba these included around: Upper Fort Garry, Lower Fort Garry; Fort Ellice; Riding Mountain House; and North Fort Pembina. The HBC reserve at North Fort Pembina was surveyed into town lots and registered in the Manitoba Land Titles as the town site of ‘West Lynne’. The HBC also established a number of stores in selected communities across the Prairies, including in Manitou in the BTNHR.  Later, a chain of HBC department stores were established in the principal cities of the West and thus, for many decades after the end of the fur trade, the Hudson Bay Company continued to be a major presence in the west with stores in many towns and cities. The large department stores, such as Winnipeg’s landmark structure, were a far cry from the small isolated woodland posts where basics such as tobacco and tea, blankets, knives and firearms were bartered for pelts and pemmican.

Red River Resistance and the Dominion Survey

As part of its plans to facilitate the acquisition and settlement of the HBC’s western holdings, the new Canadian Dominion Government proposed the construction of a railway linking eastern Canada with the colony of British Columbia on the west coast. It also proposed the surveying of the entire west into uniform ‘‘townships and sections’ to quickly and efficiently facilitate the settlement and agricultural development of the west. However, neither the HBC nor the Dominion Government thought to officially inform the people already living in the west of the land transfer and forthcoming pre-settlement Dominion Survey.   When survey crews suddenly began staking survey lines near the Red River settlement during the summer of 1869, the resident population and, in particular, the Métis protested and then resisted by forcibly stopping the survey crews. The Red River Resistance or “Rebellion” ensured. The crises ended a year later, with the arrival of the soldiers of the “Red River Expeditionary Force”, also known as the ‘Wolseley Expedition’, and the news of Red River Settlement joining Canadian Confederation as the new Province of Manitoba. By the early 1870s, agriculture and forestry had overtaken the fur trade as the primary resource based industry of the economy in both the BTNHR and southern Manitoba in general.

By the early decades of the twentieth century all traces of the early fur trade posts, even the larger forts, had disappeared from the landscape with only underground archeological remains left to testify to the wealth of history and human experience that occurred at these sites and in the BTNHR region as a whole during the two century long fur trade period.


For additional information and stories about the fur trade in and around the BTNHR, click  on the links below:


Sources consulted for Fur Trade Period overview above:

Christopher 1962.  Henriette Christopher: “Pictorial Map of Historic Pembina.” 1962;

Coues 1965.  Elliott Coues: “New Light of the Early History of the Great Northwest, Minneapolis, MN, 1965. p 205;

HRB 2001, Ash House.  Province of Manitoba, Historic Resources Branch pamphlet, “Ash House”, 2001;

Jenkinson 2003.  Clay Jenkinson: “A Vast and Open Plain – the Lewis and Clark Expedition in North Dakota”, 1804-1806.  State Historical Society of North Dakota. 2003;

Kavanagh 1960.  Martin Kavanagh: “The Assiniboine Basin”, Givesham Press, Surrey, England, 1960.  p.32;

Kavanagh 1967.  Kavanagh, Martin. “La Verendrye: His Life & Times”, Fletcher & Sons Ltd. Norwich England, 1967;

Ledohowski 1981.  Edward M. Ledohowski: “An Overview of the Heritage Resources of the Neepawa and Area Planning  District”, Historic Resources Branch, Department of Cultural Affairs and Historical Resources.  1981;

Nicholson 2001.  Karen Nicholson: “The Pembina Mėtis”, Historic Resources Branch pamphlet, February, 2001;

NWF 1920 Jan 20.  Nor’-West Farmer, January 20, 1920, ”The Hudson’s Bay Company, Past and Present”;

NWF 1920 Mar 10.  Nor’-West Farmer, March 10, 1920. p. 404. “A Bit of Canadian History”;

Payne 1968.  Michael Payne: “Fort Pinancewaywining” ,  Historic Resources Branch pamphlet, November, 1980;

Symth 1968.  Terry Symth: “Thematic Study of the Fur Trade in the Canadian West, 1670-1870”’. HSMB Agenda Paper #1968-29. 1968;

The National Atlas of Canada, page 79, “Posts of the Canadian Fur Trade”;

Beckoning Hills Revisited.








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