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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Fort Edmonton and Fort Augustus

Fort Edmonton with TeepeesThe fur trade rivalry between the North West Company (NWC) and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) directly contributed to the development of Fort Edmonton on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River. When the NWC aggressively moved inland to capture French-Canadian fur trade territory, the HBC countered by establishing trading posts in direct opposition. In 1792, when the NWC built Fort George on the North Saskatchewan River, the HBC built another post, Buckingham House, right beside them. In the summer of 1795, under the orders of Angus Shaw of the NWC, John McDonald of Garth, James Hughes and crew, built Fort Augustus, three kilometres north of present-day Fort Saskatchewan. The following autumn, William Tomison (Inland Master and also in charge at Buckingham House) sent his men up to build the first Fort Edmonton, at the mouth of Sturgeon River, a "musket-shot" away from Fort Augustus.

Fort Edmonton was named by Tomison for Edmonton, Middlesex, England, the place of residence of the Lake family, no less than five of whom were influential members of the HBC Committee between 1697 and 1807.

Soon after the establishment of Fort Augustus and Edmonton House, an additional two posts were created in the same vicinity by the competing XY Company and Ogilvie’s. In this period of bitter rivalry, the smaller forts survived only a short time. Between the autumn of 1795 and 1799, the NWC and HBC established two more dual sites along the upper North Saskatchewan between Rocky Mountain House and modern Edmonton. The NWC’s Boggy Hall was countered by the HBC’s Pembina House; and the NWC’s Whitemud House was countered by the HBC’s Nelson House. Neither location became important in trade history.

Rocky Mountain House, established in 1799, when the NWC built Rocky Mountain House and the HBC countered with Acton House, was the last in the chain of dual posts throughout the prairies. Both companies made one attempt at establishing posts out in the plains, building Chesterfield Houses at the junction of the Red Deer and South Saskatchewan Rivers. The posts lasted a mere two years and were never rebuilt.

Initially, both Fort Augustus and Fort Edmonton were quite successful at producing good trade returns. In 1797, as many as 12,512 beaver furs were traded at Fort Edmonton. Nonetheless, by 1800, the volume of furs traded started to drop. Such a steady decline in trading was common in many areas since posts usually exploited the fur resources in their immediate area. Another reason for moving trading posts was the consumption of all available firewood and timbers for building within range of their transportation. In 1801, both the NWC and HBC decided to move approximately 30 kilometres upstream. The new location was a river flat that had been used as a camping and meeting place for thousands of years, now known as the Rossdale Flats in central Edmonton.

In 1810, both posts moved to the mouth of the White Earth Creek near modern Smoky Lake, where they remained for two years. By 1813, both posts were back on the North Saskatchewan, at the Rossdale Flats site. The site was on the border of territory disputed over by the Cree and Blackfoot peoples. Better still, the area lay at the meeting point of territory patrolled by the Blackfoot to the south and the Cree, Dene, and Assiniboine to the north.

After the amalgamation of the NWC and HBC in 1820, the name Fort Augustus was dropped and fur trade operations were centralized in Fort Edmonton. The post was soon selected as district headquarters for the North Saskatchewan region. Despite its new designation, Fort Edmonton kept its responsibilities for trade, transport and provisioning to fulfill in its own area. Fort Edmonton was a provisioning post, responsible for much of the pemmican and both dried and fresh meat consumed by traders and employees in the Athabasca region as well as the brigades in the Saskatchewan region. The post garden, a common feature of HBC posts, became increasingly important as the number of employees, their families and the support community continued to grow.

John Rowand was appointed Chief Trader shortly after the amalgamation of the NWC and the HBC. When the Rossdale Flats flooded twice between 1825 and 1830, Rowand decided to move his post to higher ground. The new Fort Edmonton on the river terrace was not completed until 1832, and its most imposing feature was the "Big House" or "Rowand’s Folly" as some called it. At three stories tall and containing sixteen rooms, including a ballroom and a men’s mess, Rowand’s House was acknowledges as the most expensive home west of Fort York. Today there is a replica at the Fort Edmonton Park.

The Fort, itself, was described in an early 20th century newspaper article as having high pickets and bastions and battlemented gateways, all enclosing an area 310 feet by 210 feet. The palisades were eighteen feet high and on the inside featured a high gallery, with a blockhouse on each corner. The stockade was still in place in 1887. On three sides were large gates, the one facing the river called the "Indian Gate". Accounts differ in their description of this feature. Some describe it as so small that one person could only enter by stooping. Other descriptions have a narrow door inset in the gate.

Perhaps no individual is as closely associated with the history of this post as John Rowand. He was a remarkable figure: tough, egotistical but an excellent trader and administrator. He was liked by many Aboriginal people, and respected by the rest. Company employees found him tough, but they respected and probably feared him a bit too. Rowand commanded Edmonton until his death in 1854. One story of his death claimed that he suffered a stroke while berating his son. He was replaced by William Christie, who served at the fort from 1858 to 1872.

The position of Edmonton as administrative center of the provisioning posts, and as one link in the system of trails that led across the prairies and into the mountains, brought many visitors to the post. Among the visitors were the Palliser expedition, the Hind expedition, the Earl of Southesk with his men, Viscount Milton and Dr. Cheadle, and the Overlanders. As the Fort Edmonton community, and all the little communities around it, continued to grow, more services were provided and soon, the Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist Churches sent missionaries.

The site of the Fort became the Legislature Grounds in Edmonton, a site the HBC occupied until completion of the Legislature required the final demolition of the last Fort Edmonton buildings just prior to the First World War.

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Liens Rapides

Fort Chipewyan and Fort Vermilion

Fort Edmonton and Fort Augustus

Fort George and Buckingham House

Victoria Settlement



St. Albert

Jasper House

Lesser Slave Lake

Buffalo Lake and Tail Creek

Red Deer Forks

South Branch Communities

St. Paul de Métis

Lac La Biche

Lac Ste. Anne

Whitefish Lake

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