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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 George and Buckingham House

The competition between the North West Company (NWC) and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) led to the development of a series of dual posts where they lived in close proximity to their direct competition. In 1792, NWC wintering partner Angus Shaw built Fort George on a south facing river terrace of the North Saskatchewan River in 1792, to replace a post at Lac d’Orignal (Moose Lake) near what is now Bonnyville. In turn, the HBC Factor, William Tomison, the HBC’s senior inland officer, built another post Buckingham House right beside them.

The close proximity of the posts had some consequences and the relationship was characterized by both competition and neighbourly action. The companies competed aggressively with each other for trade with a variety of First Nations groups (this was a very multicultural milieu) but had to get along as well. The posts shared certain resources, including a well, and tried to offer a degree of mutual protection, if necessary. Post residents even visited back and forth and exchanged goods and supplies on occasion. While the competition would later become more cut-throat, in the early 1790s, traders on the North Saskatchewan River were rather co-operative.

In 1794-1795, it has been reported that approximately 1,000 people had passed through Fort George; this included the people in charge, their families, the employees, other traders, the buffalo hunters, and the First Nations people. The location of the posts meant that they drew a wide variety of peoples: Woods and Plains Cree, Assiniboine, Blackfoot, Peigan, and even the Blood from southern Alberta as well as a few other groups. Before the establishment of Fort Augustus and Fort Edmonton, the trading area for the two posts extended from west of the Rockies, south to the Montana border, and north into present day Peace River country.

The size of their trading territory emphasized one of the key reasons for their existence: as supply lines for distant posts lengthened (by the 1780s some posts extended across the continent from Montreal) companies such as the NWC and HBC developed a need for a staple food that offered lots of calories, but was light and portable. A particular Aboriginal food filled this requirement very well: pemmican, a mixture of dried and pounded buffalo meat and fat (sometimes with added berries for taste) could last without spoiling for years, offered lots of calories for hard-working men in the brigades, was dense and portable, and easy to prepare. It could be fried or eaten straight, but mostly it was turned into rubbaboo or burgoo, a kind of soup or stew made by boiling pemmican with water and flour (and anything else available). Quick, convenient and nourishing, pemmican was vital to the fur trade by the late 18th century.

The strings of forts along the edge of the prairies were all provisioning posts. This meant that while they would accept furs and buffalo hides in trade, their primary target was meat; fresh, dried, smoked, frozen in huge lumps, or already pounded into powdery flakes. The wives living in the forts took on the task of turning all that meat into pemmican, ready to be sent down with the brigades.

These posts also served a secondary trade function. They were located between the Plains and Parklands regions and could exploit the trade potential of both areas. The NWC men called these vital posts the Forts des Prairies. They were moved frequently as they would "trap out" an area. When the returns dropped too low, the post was moved up river into new territory.

Fort George and Buckingham House were among the first of the Prairie forts to stay in one place for long. Some of the employees became well-known fur traders. In 1795, the role of these posts as the main posts serving the northwest prairies was taken over when the NWC built Fort Augustus and the HBC built Fort Edmonton. By 1800, Fort George and Buckingham House were abandoned, the trade had moved on.

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Liens Rapides

Fort Chipewyan and Fort Vermilion

Fort Edmonton and Fort Augustus

Fort George and Buckingham House

Victoria Settlement

Dunvegan

Edmonton

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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