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Historic Dunvegan

Dunvegan, Near

Other Names:
Dunvegan Settlement
Fort Dunvegan
Historic Dunvegan Provincial Park
Factor's House
Fort Dunvegan Factor's House
H.B.C. Factor's House
HBC Factor's House
Hudson Bay Company Factor's House
Hudson's Bay Company Factor's House
Hudson's Bay Factor's House

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
Historic Dunvegan site comprises roughly 11.6 hectares of land situated within Dunvegan Provincial Park, along the north bank of the Peace River. The site includes a Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) Factor's House dating from 1877-78 and the archaeological remains of former North West Company (NWC) and Hudson's Bay Company structures. The Factor's House is a whitewashed, squared log construction featuring a hipped roof. Historic Dunvegan is adjacent to the historic St. Charles Church and rectory which are not included in this designation.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Historic Dunvegan site lies in its connection to the operations of the North West Company and Hudson's Bay Company in the Peace River District. The site also possesses heritage value for its example of early architecture in Alberta and its archaeological resources.

Historic Dunvegan possesses a long and storied association with the fur trade. In 1793, trader and explorer Alexander Mackenzie commented favourably on the site during his famed journey to the Pacific Ocean. Archibald Norman McLeod of the North West Company founded the first fur trade post at Dunvegan more than a decade later, in 1805. Between 1805 and 1821, the NWC and the HBC engaged in a vicious struggle to control the trade along the Peace River; in 1821, after years of ruinous competition in present-day northern Alberta and elsewhere, the two companies merged into the new Hudson's Bay Company. Following the merger, Dunvegan became a significant post in the HBC's Peace River region, serving as a source for furs and provisions and as a trans-shipment centre for the brigades. After some tumult in the area following the reorganization of the HBC under George Simpson, Dunvegan emerged as a consistently profitable fur trade post. In addition to acquiring furs from the local Natives, the traders at the post also capitalized on the fertility of Dunvegan's alluvial flats to grow grains and vegetables for local use and export to other posts. In 1878, changes in the transportation network of the area prompted a reordering of the trade along the Peace River. Dunvegan became the new headquarters for the Athabasca District. The post's new significance resulted in a campaign of building and improvements. Dunvegan's regional importance in the fur trade, however, was short-lived: in 1886, the HBC reconsidered its decision and moved the headquarters of the district to Lesser Slave Lake. The fur trade at the post diminished in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with changes to the area's transportation network, economy, and society. In 1918, the HBC closed Fort Dunvegan.

The Factor's House at Dunvegan is a simple structure featuring whitewashed, squared timber construction with a hipped roof. Though largely typical of the frontier buildings erected during the fur trade period, the building is distinguished by its use of dovetailed corner construction as opposed to the post-on-sill method of building commonly employed for HBC structures. The Factor's House is one of the earliest buildings still extant in Alberta and forms a vital link to the history of the Hudson's Bay Company in shaping the early society and economy of the province.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 698)

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of Historic Dunvegan include such features as:

- location on the fertile alluvial flats on the north bank of the Peace River;
- archaeological remains.

Factor's House:
- mass, form, and scale;
- rock foundation;
- whitewashed squared log construction with dovetailed joins;
- cedar-shingled hipped roof;
- fenestration pattern and style, including 6-over-6 sash windows;
- pattern and style of doors, including main entrance door with transom window.


Street Address:
Community: Dunvegan, Near
Boundaries: Block X, Y and 5, Plan 5818BD; Portions of Legal Subdivisions 15 and 16 in Section 7-80-4-W6; and Lot OT, Plan DUNVEGA
Contributing Resources: Archaeological Site / Remains: 1
Building: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
Road Plan 4671 JY
5818 BD

X, Y, 5

Grp 1

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
55.925708 -118.605643 NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1978/09/15

Historical Information

Built: 1877 to 1878
Period of Significance: N/A
Theme(s): Developing Economies : Trade and Commerce
Historic Function(s): Commerce / Commercial Services : Trading Post
Community : Settlement
Current Function(s): Leisure : Historic or Interpretive Site

In the spring of 1793, Alexander Mackenzie and his crew of five voyageurs left their winter encampment near the forks of the Peace and Smoky Rivers, and proceeded on their famous journey to the Pacific Ocean. After passing through the most southerly bend of the Peace River in what is now Alberta, Mackenzie was moved to comment on the 'magnificent theatre of nature' in the district and the vast extent of bison and other wildlife. He had earlier been told of the large population of Beaver Indians in the area, and, so, when Archibald Mcleod entered the district twelve years later to build a fur trade post on behalf of the North West Company, this southerly bend was much on his mind. Concurring with Mackenzie's earlier description, Mcleod chose the largest flat on the north bank for his post, naming it Dunvegan after his ancestral home on the Isle of Skye.

The next several years saw a flurry of activity around Dunvegan, as the population from as far away as the Battle River to the north and the Grande Prairie to the south brought meat from their hunts and fur from their trap lines to the post for barter. So successful was the business on the upper Peace River that the Hudson's Bay Company was enticed to the area, sending traders upriver in 1816 from their base at Fort Weddeburn on Lake Athabasca. As water from the Peace River flowed into the Arctic Ocean, and not Hudson's Bay, Dunvegan was outside the parameters of Rupert's Land, and so the territory had not been included in the Hudson's Bay Company grant from the British Crown. During 1816-21, a veritable fur trade war took place along the upper Peace, with kidnappings and killings, until a truce was called in 1820. The two companies then merged under the single name of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Throughout the early and middle years of the nineteenth century, the fur trade continued much as before. Much disruption however was brought to the Native population as bands of Cree were inhabiting the district and 'freemen' were brought in by the HBC to trap and serve as hunters. Wild game was thus much decimated. The much reduced Beaver population was able to survive however, and, in the mid 1860's, the HBC faced new competition. Rumours of gold on the upper Peace River in British Columbia brought hordes of prospectors to the area. Although most soon left as there was little gold, others chose to stay and become independent traders. By the early 1870's people like Henry Fuller 'Twelve Foot' Davis, Dan Carey, William Cust and the Elmore Brothers were, collectively, doing as much business as the HBC.

To counter the new opposition, the HBC undertook to build several outposts further inland, at Sturgeon Lake, Grande Prairie and Battle River. Dunvegan was also made the headquarters of an entire Fur Trade District. In fact, a new set of buildings were constructed just to the east of the original fur trade site, where the buildings were now dilapidated. The main new buildings consisted of a trading office, behind which stood two new fur and supplies warehouses. Behind these, and towards the hillside and impressive new residence was also constructed for the factors who managed the new post. This building, constructed in 1879, is still standing, and is the oldest building in Alberta north of St. Albert.

As well as trading competition, the 1860's also brought the Oblate Fathers to Dunvegan. The district had been visited for years by itinerant priests, including Father Lacombe, and, in 1867, Father Christophe Tissier was made the first resident priest at Dunvegan, maintaining a church and a rectory about 2 km east of the original trading post, and about 1km east of the newly constructed post. To the west of the original post, the Anglicans under Thomas Bunn would establish a mission in 1880.

With business picking up due to the renewed efforts of the HBC in the mid- to late-1870's, the Oblates decided to rebuild their church and rectory. In 1886, work was begun on a new St. Charles Mission right next to the 1867 church. When work was completed on this, a new rectory was begun and completed in 1888. In charge at the time was Father Emile Grouard. He was accompanied by two other priests, a lay brother and even a nun. Both the Church and the Rectory remain standing.

The Oblates, however, may have been misguided in thinking that Dunvegan would continue as the major commercial center in the Northwest, for, during the mid-1880's, a decline was brought to fur trade activity in the Peace River region. The fur had always been shipped down river to Fort Chipewyan, and, from there, further south to Fort McMurray. From there, it was taken east on the Clearwater River, over the Methey Portage to Fort Prince of Wales on Hudson Bay. From there, it was shipped to England. However, in 1878, the HBC opened a trail from Fort Edmonton to Athabasca Landing, and began to ship all their fur acquired from the Mackenzie Basin to Fort Edmonton. Improved transportation on the North Saskatchewan River made this more feasible than the old Methey Portage route. The fur trade would henceforth be concentrated along the Athabasca, Slave and Mackenzie Rivers.

With the reduced activity around Dunvegan, the Anglican mission was closed in 1891, and the St. Charles mission in 1903. The last resident priest, Father Le Treste, moved the center of his operation the more heavily populated district of Spirit River. The Hudson's Bay Company, however, would continue at Dunvegan until 1918. Since 1900, its post had served more as a commercial store with cash exchange than a place of barter. By 1918, Dunvegan had also become more widely recognized for its market gardens than any commercial activity. It remained a center of transportation, however, and, in the years that followed, the ferry there was the main connecting point between the north and south Peace River districts of Alberta.

With the decline of Dunvegan, all the buildings of the original fur trade post gradually disappeared. The Factor's House, the St. Charles Church and the Rectory, however, found renewed life as country stores, commercial garages, and ferrymen's houses. The scenic vistas of Dunvegan also encouraged people to visit the site for picnics and other gatherings. Shortly after World War II, the Knights of Columbus from Fairview began to take care of the old Church and Rectory, and, eventually, they established a museum in the Church. By the 1960's the historical importance of Dunvegan was becoming apparent to the provincial government, and the site was acquired in order to have the buildings restored and the area around them made into a park. In the 1980's the Church, Rectory and Factor's House were all restored and made a part of the provincial system of government owned historic sites.


The historical significance of the Factor's House at Dunvegan lies in its service as the earliest free-standing structure in Alberta representing the activities of the Hudson's Bay Company, which dominated the economy of western Canada throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is the oldest building in Alberta north of St. Albert. The historical significance of the St. Charles Mission and Rectory lies in their service as the center of Roman Catholic religious activity in the Peace River region south of Fort Vermilion from 1888 until 1903. Collectively, the buildings are a centerpiece for the interpretation of northern Alberta history prior to the settlement period

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0208
Designation File: DES 0698
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 75284
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. 698)
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