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Hudson's Bay Company Factor's House

Fort Vermilion

Other Names:
Hudson's Bay House
Old Bay House

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Hudson's Bay Company Factor's House is a two-and-one-half storey wood frame building constructed in 1906, located on one lot in Fort Vermilion.

Heritage Value
The Hudson's Bay Company Factor's House is significant as the only structural remnant of the fur trade that operated in the area from the late eighteenth century. As the residence of Hudson's Bay Company factors from 1908 until 1940, it stands in the northern reaches of the H.B.C.'s emporium and reflects the dominance of the H.B.C. in the far-flung community, which was at the time the largest between Edmonton and the Yukon. The Factor's House is also significant for its architectural style, the first dwelling of its kind to be constructed in northern Alberta.

The Hudson's Bay Company Factor's House is part of a fur trade history that dates back to 1788, when the North West Company established a post on the flats of the Peace River. It attracted Beaver, Slavey, and Cree First Nations as well as Métis free traders. Fort Vermilion became one of the most important posts in the northwest because it allowed access to the furs of the boreal forest and to hunting (and later farming) on the open parkland around the fort. Accordingly, in 1830 the Hudson's Bay Company built a provisions post here to supply bison and moose meat to canoe and boat brigades and other posts like Fort Chipewyan and Dunvegan. Fort Vermilion served as the Company's chief post on the Peace River until 1878.

The Factor's House is one of three remaining factors' houses in Alberta and the only one on its original site. The factors at Fort Vermilion influenced both the fur trade and the emerging agricultural economy throughout the northwest, and their residence was an important gathering place for business and social activities. When completed it was one of the largest and most fashionable residences in the northwest, by which time Fort Vermilion was a key commercial centre with a company farm and mills serving the growing settlement of the Peace district.

The Hudson's Bay Company Factor's House is a wood frame building made from timber processed at the Fort Vermilion H.B.C. sawmill, a step in the evolution of construction of H.B.C. posts. There are no other fur trade structures of this type, size or age in northern Alberta. The Factor's House is a significant visual landmark in Fort Vermilion and, viewed from the Peace River, recalls the critical role played by the Peace as a transportation route in the fur trade.

(Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, File: Des. 384)


Character-Defining Elements
The heritage value of the Hudson's Bay Company Factor's House resides in such character-defining elements as:
- continued location on its original site;
- balloon-frame construction;
- an irregular footprint in the shape of "T", scale and massing
- 4" V-joint tongue-and-groove siding over 8" shiplap sheathing boards;
- cross-gabled, steeply-pitched roof with brackets and return;
- L-shaped rubble foundation wall with a full basement
- a fenestration pattern which includes bay windows with a segmented hipped roof on the south and east elevations, and half-round windows in the east-west gables
- two square corbeled-masonry chimneys;
- wooden shingle roof
- boxed soffits and dentiled frieze, with a plain frieze on the gable end
- original newel posts and interior staircase;
- an interior layout with four bedrooms, a den, dining and living rooms, kitchen, pantry, sitting room, sewing area, and indoor bathroom;
- the remains of an L-shaped verandah with an upper balcony on the north side;
- views of the Peace River.


Location



Street Address:
Community: Fort Vermilion
Boundaries: Block 1, Plan 3383ET
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
5
5
12
12
108
108
19
19
13 (ptn.)
14

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
3383 ET
1
N/A


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
58.396181 -116.001984 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type
6473303 0558340 GPS NAD 83

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2005/04/25

Historical Information

Built: 1906 to 1908
Significant Date(s) 1908 to 1940
Theme(s) Developing Economies : Extraction and Production
Developing Economies : Trade and Commerce
Historic Function(s): Residence : Single Dwelling
Current Function(s):
Architect:
Builder:
Context: HISTORICAL CONTEXT

In 1788, traders for the North West Company established a trading post on the flats of the Peace River at a point near the mouth of the Boyer River. It was called Fort Vermilion, apparently after red ochre deposits in the area. At the time, lands north and west of this point were occupied mostly by members of the Beaver First Nation, who were the initial intended clients of the Company. Once this post was established however, trading was also undertaken with members of the Slavey First Nation, who lived further north and west and also with recently migrated Cree who were now occupying the lands throughout the region. In time, a number of freemen, mostly Metis, came to settle on the river flats outside the Fort and engage in trading as well.

With the incursion of the Hudson's Bay into the Peace Region in 1815, a rival HBC post called Colville House was established upriver from Fort Vermilion. After a bitter fur trade war, the two companies amalgamated under the single name of Hudson's Bay Company, and Colville House was closed down. Throughout the rest of the nineteenth century, trade continued at Fort Vermilion, and, after the Irene Farm and Training School was established near the Fort in 1879, further settlement in the area increased. Soon, the HBC itself was maintaining a farm, milling its own grain, and selling the produce, primarily to people further up the Peace River, around Fort Chipewyan and even at HBC posts down the MacKenzie River. This activity picked up after 1899, when the Klondike gold rush and the signing of Treaty 8 brought a cash economy and more people to the north.

By the end of the nineteenth century, there were more people living around Fort Vermilion than any other community in Canada northwest of the Edmonton district, save for Dawson City. Most of these people were Metis engaged in trapping and small-scale farming. The First Nations of the area preferred to live in the woodlands away from the Fort. The economy of the district continued to centre around the Hudson's Bay Company trading post, and, even though the fur trade had declined in recent times, business at the HBC farm and grist mill continued to grow. In addition to other small farms in the area, there were now several large ones, such as those of Fred and later Sheridan Lawrence, and that of St. Henri's Roman Catholic Mission. In 1907, part of Fred Lawrence's farm would be made over into a federal agricultural research station. All of these farms invariably sold most of their produce to the HBC, especially once the HBC had set up a modern steamroller flour mill, with an auxiliary sawmill and planer, in 1902 for $45,000. By this time, a hundred pound sack of flour produced at Fort Vermilion was selling for 6 dollars, as compared to 10 dollars for those imported from Edmonton.

In 1905, the commercial activity of the HBC around Fort Vermilion was augmented by its launching of a large new steam boat on the Peace River called the SS Peace River. At the same time, the HBC decided to provide the overall director of its operations in the area, Factor Frank Wilson, with a new residence on the banks of the river next to the Fort and farming operation. This was a three-storey wood frame dwelling, made from wood cut locally and planed at the HBC sawmill. When completed, it immediately stood out as the most fashionable residence in the northwest with four bedrooms, a den, a dining room separate from the living room, a pantry separate from the kitchen, a sitting room, a sewing area, and even an indoor bathroom. This residence, which no doubt was the venue of much business activity on behalf of the HBC, would be a showcase home and a social centre in Fort Vermilion for years to come. Though it ceased to serve the managers of the HBC store during the 1930's, it continued to be used as a private residence, in time blending with the other large wood frame dwellings nearby. In the 1970's, it was taken over and used by the Alberta Vocational Center.


HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

The historical significance of the Old Bay House lies in its provision of the only structural evidence remaining of the presence of the Hudson's Bay Company in Fort Vermilion. It is significant as well in that, having served as the residence of the Hudson's Bay Company's factors just after the turn of the twentieth century, it represents the dominance of the HBC in all aspects of life in this spread out community which then was the largest between Edmonton and the Yukon. It is also significant in that, in its size and with its many facilities, it was the first dwelling of its kind to be constructed in Alberta northwest of the Edmonton district.



Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0160
Designation File: DES 0384
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 23805
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. 384)
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