Following the Trail of 1885 – Louis Rîel – Fort Carlton

The Hudson Bay Trading Post, then home to the Northwest Mounted Police

In the third story of this series, we travel to Fort Carlton – The Hudson Bay Trading Post, then home to the Northwest Mounted Police

Via Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
Louis Rîel - Fort Carlton
An Illustration of Fort Carlton in its time

To follow the trail of Louis Rîel, we had to discover what was here when he arrived in 1885. Fort Carlton was home to the Northwest Mounted Police at the time of the 1885 Resistance. However, the place had a rich and colourful history in Rupert’s Land, as it was known then, and what became the Northwest Territories. Fort Carleton is a restoration of the original Hudson Bay Trading Post that sat at the site for seventy-five years.

Fort Carleton as we see now. Two of the restored buildings today
Fort Carleton as we see now. Two of the restored buildings today

It was an important trading post because it was at the crossroads of the trading routes. The North Saskatchewan River and the Carleton Trail met there. For two-hundred years the Hudson Bay Company had dominated the fur trading industry, selling to the massive European market. 

Furs represented a livelihood for many people in Rupert’s Land

Many trading posts dotted throughout the land. Through this post they were able to trade with the Indian/Métis trappers and hunters who obtained the furs, distribute the furs to the east, and supply the provisions for those who worked in the territory. The woodlands Indians were the main trappers of fine furs, while the plains Indians helped by supplying pemmican, country produce, and prairie furs.

The trade routes that passed through Fort Carleton, led to Winnipeg to the east, the Rocky Mountains on the west, and the Hudson Bay to the north. The principal conveyances used were York boats used by the HBC to carry furs and supplies along the river routes, dog sleds in the winter, canoes, and Red River carts, the special high wooden carts that were used on the land trails.

The Red River Cart was used for transporting furs and goods along the trails

Although the fort was surrounded by a high fence, I was told, it had not been necessary for protection, as this centre was the trading ground for all peoples in the area, supplying the Indians, Métis and settlers. With the reduction in the buffalo population the business of the fort dwindled. It became the main base for The Northwest Mounted Police. In haste to leave the place during the battles of the 1885 Resistance, the mounted police accidentally set fire to the post and it burned to the ground. What we see now is a reconstruction of the original Fort Carleton.

Goods sold at Fort Carleton in its day
Display of Indian Village at Fort Carleton

When word of the uprising at Duck Lake reached Ottawa, the government must have been very concerned, as they quickly sent the Northwest Field Force of over five thousand troops; men under the command of Major General Frederick Middleton, to try to squelch the resistance in the Northwestern Territories.  It is interesting to note that Gabriel Dumont wanted to damage the rail line in order to deter the movement of the troops, but Louis Rîel would not allow it.  The troops were posted at three staging areas along the Canadian Pacific Railway: Qu Appelle, Swift Current and Calgary. They were ready for action.

Finish Following the Trails of Louis Riel – 1885 with:
Searching for more understanding, we visit the Poundmaker Cree Nation

Article and photos by M. Maxine George

Last updated December 4, 2020 by Matthew George – Webmaster

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