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Fur Trade
Fort William

A Chronology through Art
1805–1882

Library and Archives Canada, e011782571

October 2023 – March 2024

Tuesday to Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission by donation

In celebration of 50 years of bringing life to history as a provincial attraction, Fort William Historical Park (FWHP), in partnership with the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, presents 45 works of art, executed by 18 different artists, assembled from 11 collections. These works have been curated by Shawn Patterson, FWHP Collections Team Leader, and will be available for viewing from October 2023 to March 2024. This exhibit captures the vibrancy, bustle and inhabitants in and around Fort William throughout the 1800s.

Woman At Fort William
Fort William Historical Park, 2014.032.001

45 works of art, executed by

18 artists and assembled from

11 collections

425 Donald St. E, Thunder Bay Ontario
Shawn Patterson

Hear from the curator

Listen to Shawn Patterson’s interview on CBC’s Superior Morning with Mary-Jean Cormier.

About the Exhibit

Throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the North West Company was a trans-continental juggernaut, stretching from the Gulf of the St. Lawrence to the Arctic and Pacific oceans.

 

In 1803, the North West Company moved its inland headquarters from Grand Portage to the British side of the border where the Kaministiquia River meets Lake Superior. The local Anishinaabe (Ojibway) were unhappy with the move as they felt as though they had a right to locate their traders wherever they pleased. For the Nor’Westers, the relocation was necessary to avoid taxation, a likely consequence if they continued to operate on the United States side of the Pigeon River.

 

At first, named Fort Kaministiquia, the inland headquarters was renamed Fort William in 1807 to honour the chief director, William McGillivray. Strategically located, the Fort served as the transshipment point between the Company’s western wintering posts and its Montreal headquarters. A significant complex of dozens of buildings, appearing more like a town than a fur trading post, this community was without a school or church, as most of the occupants lived elsewhere for most of the year.

For 18 years, the North West Company held its annual rendezvous at Fort William with over 1,000 voyageurs encamped around the palisade every July. During the rendezvous, Company partners discussed business, supplies from the east were prepared for shipping to the western interior posts, and furs collected from those posts were prepared for shipping east to Montreal and then to England.

 

 

In 1821, this tradition changed, as did the importance of Fort William. The merger between the North West Company and Hudson’s Bay Company that year reduced the once magnificent depot to a district headquarters, and soon after, just another fur trading post.

 

Under the new company, which retained the Hudson’s Bay Company brand, Fort William continued to trade with the Anishinaabe and eventually operated a sizeable fishing operation in the area. Its significance to the coast-to-coast fur trade had declined significantly, but its importance as a regional centre for trade and its function as a social hub continued to grow into the 1880s, eventually serving as the nucleus for today’s Thunder Bay.

 

On July 3, 1973, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II officially opened Fort William Historical Park to the public. Today, a full reconstruction of 50 buildings is arranged across a 25-acre site as it was during the time of the North West Company.

In celebration of 50 years of bringing life to history, Fort William Historical Park, in partnership with the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, presents 45 works of art, executed by 18 different artists, assembled from 11 collections. This exhibit captures Fort William at its apex in the early 19th century through its long decline prior to the emergence of the Lakehead’s boom years at the century’s end.

 

 

Throughout this exhibit, you will notice some titles and inscriptions use phraseology that would not be considered acceptable today. While imperfect by 21st century standards, these are the original writings of the artists and reflect the common language of that period.