Fort Edmonton and Fort Augustus
The 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
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
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.
Fort Chipewyan and Fort
Fort Edmonton and Fort Augustus
Fort George and Buckingham 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