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Fort Chipewyan

Other Names:
Fort Chipewyan IV
H. B. C. Post
H. B. Co. Post
H.B.C. Post
HBC Post
Hudson Bay Company Fur Trading Post
Hudson's Bay Company Post
Hudson's Bay Post

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Fort Chipewyan III archaeological site contains evidence of one of the most influential late eighteenth/early nineteenth-century fur trade posts established in the Athabasca region, and the oldest continuously occupied Euro-Canadian settlement in Alberta. It is situated on nearly three hectares of land within the modern town of Fort Chipewyan, approximately 220 km north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Although no buildings remain standing, rectangular mounds, cellar depressions, rock alignments and dispersed historic materials represent the site. An historic cairn was established to honour the fort in the 1930s, and in 1959 the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada commemorated the location with a plaque. Artifacts excavated from this site are housed in the collections of the Royal Alberta Museum.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Fort Chipewyan III archaeological site lies in its identity as one of the most important fur trading posts in Canada, serving as a key distribution centre for furs, goods and men trading in the Peace, Slave, Athabasca and Mackenzie River basins. It was also the Athabasca regional headquarters for both the North West Company (ca. 1802-1821) and the Hudson's Bay Company (post-1821).

Fort Chipewyan III was the third location selected for the post, after it had been originally established in 1788 on the south shore of Lake Athabasca. The isolation of the original location, however, necessitated its movement to the lake's northwest shore. First moved to Mission Point (Fort Chipewyan II), in 1803 it was shifted to a rocky promontory to the east (Fort Chipewyan III). Its strategic lakeside location near the debouchments of four major rivers provided a connection with the Peace, Slave, Athabasca and Mackenzie River systems. Its operation was instrumental in the expansion of trade to the Mackenzie River basin and the regions which would later become the Yukon, British Columbia and northern Saskatchewan.

Fort Chipewyan III administered and supplied several subsidiary posts (Fond du Lac, Fort McMurray, Salt River Post on Slave River, Red River, Fort Vermilion, Battle River, Dunvegan, Fort St. John and Hudson's Hope posts on the Peace River). It also served as the stopping or overwintering location for numerous nineteenth-century northern exploration parties, and was an important regional center for the work of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Between 1815 and 1821, Fort Chipewyan III was at the centre of the armed conflict that developed as a result of competition between the North West and the Hudson's Bay Companies, resulting in an eventual decline in the dominance of the North West Company in the Athabasca region and the amalgamation of the two companies in 1821. It became headquarters for the Hudson's Bay Company's Athabasca operations after 1821.

After 1870, the Hudson's Bay Company made a number of changes to the way trade was conducted at Fort Chipewyan III. This included rebuilding and expanding the post. Buildings were replaced, new ones were added and all were rebuilt on stone foundations. The new structures included a large depot, two large storehouses, officers and servants' quarters, an office and a jail. In 1883, the transportation system was modernized when the traditional York boats were replaced by a fleet of sternwheel steamers.

Jurisdiction over the Athabasca region passed to the Dominion of Canada in 1869, when Canada purchased the Hudson's Bay Company territories. Despite this, the local and regional economy continued to be dominated by the fur trade until after the Second World War, and the Hudson's Bay Company retained interests in Fort Chipewyan. The fur trade seriously declined during the 1950s, although the Hudson's Bay Company continued to maintain a store in the town of Fort Chipewyan until the mid-1960s.

Archaeological excavations were carried out at Fort Chipewyan III in 1978, 1979 and 1985. Excavations revealed at least three phases of rebuilding, noting that the remains of early buildings had not been completely removed by successive reconstruction phases. Building remains were identified with either 'post-in-ground' or 'post-on-sill' construction with stone foundations, and a few had evidence of dove-tailed corners. Artifacts and animal bones were also identified, representing activities from the early nineteenth century to the modern era.

Sources: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 19). Parker, James. 1987. Emporium of the North: Fort Chipewyan and the Fur Trade to 1835 (Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, Canadian Plains Research Centre: Edmonton, Alberta). 1979, Heitzmann, Roderick J., Historical Resources Assessment, Fort Chipewyan III, Archaeology in Alberta 1978, Archaeological Survey of Alberta Occasional Paper No. 14, compiled by J. M. Hillerud, p 14-21.; 1980, Heitzmann, Roderick J., Fort Chipewyan III and IV Historical Resources Assessment Programme 1979, Archaeology in Alberta 1979, Archaeological Survey of Alberta Occasional Paper No. 15, compiled by Paul F. Donahue, p 91-100. 990, Forsman, Michael R.A., The archaeology of fur trade sites in the Athabasca District in Proceedings of the Fort Chipewyan and Fort Vermilion bicentennial conference edited by Patricia A. McCormack and R. Geoffrey Ironside, pp. 45-62; 1993, Forsman, Michael R.A., The last bourgeois' house at Fort Chipewyan in The Uncovered Past: Roots of Northern Alberta Societies edited by Patricia A. McCormack and R. Geoffrey Ironside, Circumpolar research series number 3, pp. 45-62.

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Fort Chipewyan III archaeological site include:
- the information potential resident in the remaining archaeological deposits at the site;
- the information value in the records made and collections recovered in the several archaeological studies conducted at the site;
- the site's strategic location, which was suited to the related requirements of fur production, provisioning and transportation to and from trading locations in the Athabasca, Peace, Slave and Mackenzie River systems and provided access to abundant natural fisheries that provided a plentiful and inexpensive source of food for the residents, the fur brigade participants and northern explorers;
- extensive archival records for the post, which detail its function as a depot and administrative headquarters for widely dispersed subsidiary posts at Fond du Lac, Fort McMurray, Salt River Post (Slave River), Red River, Fort Vermilion, Battle River, Dunvegan and Fort St. John and Hudson's Hope on the Peace River;
- the information value in the historic records available for the post, which detail its involvement in some of the most violent armed conflict between the North West and Hudson's Bay Companies between 1815 and 1821, resulting in both taking up armaments and capturing prisoners to disrupt the others' trade.


Street Address:
Community: Fort Chipewyan
Boundaries: Plan 5642 NY, Block 3, Lot 24
Contributing Resources: Archaeological Site/Remainss: 1
Collections: 1
Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s): 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
5642 NY

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
58.712285 -111.148858 Secondary source NAD83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1987/08/10

Historical Information

Built: 1800/01/01 To 1800/01/01
Significant Date(s) 1800/01/01 To 1950/12/31
Theme(s) Developing Economies : Communications and Transportation
Developing Economies : Trade and Commerce
Peopling the Land : People and the Environment
Historic Function(s): Commerce / Commercial Services : Trading Post
Current Function(s):

Fort Chipewyan is important because it was the major distribution center for the fur trade in Alberta throughout the 19th century, and remains a significant fur trade center in Canada. It is also representative of the rivalry that existed between the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company, a rivalry settled by the amalgamation of 1821.


None, however the site offers exceptional archeological potential, particularly relating to structural features.

(Site Information Summary)

The Honorable Dennis Anderson, Minister of Culture and Multiculturalism announced today that the site of Fort Chipewyan III has been designated a Provincial Historic Resource.

Fort Chipewyan, Alberta's oldest community settled by Europeans, is closely associated with the development of the fur trade in Alberta, which began in 1788 with the arrival of Peter Pond. Various posts were established in the area before this final location was selected in 1803.

During the nineteenth century, Fort Chipewyan emerged as one of the most important Hudson's Bay Company establishments in Canada. As headquarters and depot for the fur rich Athabasca District, Fort Chipewyan administered and supplied several subsidiary posts: Fond du Lac Post on Lake Athabasca, Fort McMurray on the Athabasca River, Salt River Post on the Slave River, and Red River, Fort Vermillion, Battle River, Dunvegan, Fort St. John and Hudson's Hope Posts on the Peace river. Strategically located at the west end of Lake Athabasca, Fort Chipewyan enjoyed river access not only to these district posts, but to the vast Mackenzie District as well. Chipewyan, Beaver, Cree, Iroquois, Slave and Sekani Indians and mixed blood freemen traded their furs and hides, and obtained provision at these HBC posts.

Up to the 1870's, Fort Chipewyan was part of a commercial system, which used the indispensable York boat on the rivers and lakes, and ox carts on the portages to ship the trade good and the annual fur returns between the Athabasca and Mackenzie Districts and York Factory, Norway House and Fort Garry. After the 1870's, the Company made a number of changes in this transportation system and expanded the size of Fort Chipewyan. The key advocate of these changes was the Chief Factor at fort Chipewyan, Roderick McFarlane, who was in charge of the Athabasca District from 1871 to 1886. During his tenure, Fort Chipewyan was completely rebuilt on stone foundations, dwarfing the adjoining Anglican mission. The new structures included a large depot, two large storehouses, officers' and servants' quarters, an office, even a jail. In 1883, as the culmination of years of lobbying by McFarlane, the stern-wheel steamer "Grahame" was launched at Fort Chipewyan, the first of several steamers, placed on the Athabasca, Peace and Slave Rivers, largely displacing the York boats and their crews.

(Draft Press Release)

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0012
Designation File: DES 0019
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 22487
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 19)
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