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No. 29: Naming of Fort Chipewyan

Fort Chipewyan is the oldest continuously occupied community in Alberta.

It dates back to 1788, when the North West Company established a fur trading post on Lake Athabasca.

According to historian Merrily Aubrey, the name is aboriginal in origin.

It was actually named for the people predominant in the area. The word Chipewyan is actually Cree in origin, and means "pointed skins" – referring to the way they prepared their pelts for trade.

The language is a branch that they speak of the northwestern Algonquian, and is closely related to Slavey and the Dogrib. They refer to themselves as The People, or Dene.

But Fort Chipewyan is not the only name for this community.

The Slavey and Chipewyan call it Yeteekquin, or Yetseekquin, respectively. And both mean "priest house." And this apparently refers to the old Roman Catholic mission that was there, established by the oblates of Mary Immaculate in the 1840s.

And there’s another name for it, and that is Kyteekum, and that name is from the Dogrib language, and means "willow ground," and it’s descriptive of the plants in the area.

Because Fort Chipewyan was strategically located on the shores of Lake Athabasca, men travelling by canoes could easily paddle to the Athabasca, Peace and Slave Rivers.

Early explorers used the fort as a base for their operations, and it became an important supply depot for the fur trade.

But, as historian Merrily Aubrey notes, Fort Chipewyan was not always located in the same spot.

The original site, on the south side of the lake, was abandoned. The move in 1804 was a result of the stiff competition from the other fur companies – the Hudson's Bay Company and the XY Company.

And with this move of the fort to the north, the North West Company was in better position to trade with the Chipewyan people.

Known as the Emporium of the North, this post was considered by some to be second in importance only to Fort William on Lake Superior.

That all changed after the introduction of steamboats. Today, the tiny northern community lies isolated. After more than two hundred years, there are still no roads leading to Fort Chipewyan.

On the Heritage Trail,

I’m Cheryl Croucher.

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