Named in 1807 after NWC chief superintendent William MCGILLIVRAY, Fort William occupied a pivotal place in the company's vast trading network. In 1816-17 Lord SELKIRK occupied Fort William for 10 months as a consequence of the SEVEN OAKS INCIDENT. This occupation, combined with major financial difficulties, led to the NWC merger with the HUDSON'S BAY CO in 1821. With the Montréal transportation system virtually abandoned in favour of the HBC's, Fort William lost its importance in the FUR TRADE. As a post and fishing station of the HBC, it gradually declined until its closure in 1883.
In 1902 its last standing structure, the NWC's Stone Store, was demolished to make way for the Canadian Pacific Railway's expanding grain and freight shipping facilities. The only reminders of Fort William's fur-trade past now at its original site are the local historical society's cairn, unveiled 1916, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board's marker, erected 1981, and neighbouring street signs bearing the names of renowned NWC and HBC fur traders.
Prompted by the community's active interest in Fort William's role as gateway between East and West, and also by the recognized potential of heritage attractions for tourism, the Ontario government decided in 1971 to reconstruct Fort William to the NWC period. Known as Fort William Historical Park, the reconstruction is located in THUNDER BAY, Ontario, at Pointe de Meuron, 14 km upriver from the original site. Through its costumed staff, the fort's living historical program depicts the activities of the rendezvous, the annual gathering of Scots traders, French Canadian VOYAGEURS and native trappers. It also portrays the fur-trade society and material culture of the early 19th century. Other facilities include a visitor centre, resource library, gift shop, and one of Canada's largest outdoor amphitheatres. Fort William Historical Park also offers programs for schools, special-interest groups and businesses along with numerous special events and festivals every year.
Author JEAN MORRISON
Links to Other Sites
Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior
View an online image of Francis Anne Hopkins' dramatic painting "Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior." From the Glenbow Museum website.
Fort William Historical Park
The website for Fort William Historical Park, a major tourist attraction devoted to re-creating the days of the North West Company. Click on "Explore" for an interactive multimedia tour of the historical structures on this site. Click on "Hinge of an Empire" for a preview of a film that depicts the evolution of the fur trade and the roles of the North West Company and Fort William in early Canadian history and development.
The Canadian Register of Historic Places
Canada is home to a vast array of fascinating historical sites. Many of them are illustrated and described in this searchable online database of Canadian historic places that are of local, provincial, territorial, and national significance.
Fur Trade Facts
This site offers definitions of terms commonly used in the fur trade during the 19th century. From the website for Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario.