Magic Carpet Journals


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Following the Trail of 1885 - Louis Riel

Fort Carlton: the Hudson Bay Trading Post, then home to the Northwest Mounted Police

Maxine George takes us to Saskatchewan to discover the story of Louis Rîel.


Fort Carleton in its prime - 1870


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 the Rupert's Land 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 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

Their many trading posts dotted 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 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 their 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 Carleton Fort.




Goods sold at Fort Carleton


Display of Indian Village at Fort Carleton


When word of the uprising at Frog Lake reached Ottawa, the government must have been very concerned as they quickly sent the Northwest Field Force of over five thousand troops, 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 to deter the movement of the troops, but Louis Riel 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.


Following the Trail of 1885 at the Poundmaker Museum

Article and Pictures by M. Maxine George




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Last Updated on July 28, 2014 by M. Maxine George editor.