In 1826, when the first York Factory Express men descended the Hayes River from Norway House to York Factory, they passed through only one Hayes River post: Oxford House. That does not mean that other Hudson’s Bay Company posts never existed along the Hayes River over time: in fact, there were many.
I have done my previous posts from Ernest Voorhis’s downloaded manuscript, “Historic Forts and Trading Posts of the French regime and of the English Fur Trading Companies.” Well, I now own a copy of the actual book, and IT HAS MAPS! This book was a gift to me from a longtime friend in Ucluelet (where I holidayed), and it will prove invaluable to me over time.
So let’s start with the forts that lay on the Hayes River east of Norway House — they are numbered 413, 244, 195, 552, 475, 529, 168, 390. They are actually on two separate rivers which run side by side, and so we will have to find out what the name of the other river is — Perhaps the Fox? No, it’s God’s River, as we will see.
413 is Oxford House, “Hudson’s Bay Co post at the northeast end of Oxford Lake on the Hayes River route from Norway House and Lake Winnipeg to York Factory. It was the oldest post in Keewatin District. The first fort was established by Chief Factor William Sinclair in 1798 and the second by John McLeod in 1816. [John McLeod is the same man who led out the first York Factory Express in 1826!] This post has been in regular operation from 1798 to date. It was an important post when York Factory was the main shipping port and York boats were used.” So, according to Vorhiss, there were no posts west of Oxford House, on the Hayes River.
244 is “Jackson’s Bay House, a small Hudson’s Bay Co. post on Jackson Bay, southeast shore of Oxford Lake, Ontario, York District. It was an outpost of Oxford House and was including in the company lists of 1869 and 1872.” So this is a later post, and one that no Express man would have visited.
195 is “God’s Lake House. Hudson’s Bay Co post on the north shore of God’s Lake, Ontario, about 30 miles by portage route north to Hayes River. It was probably built about 1830 and has been in continuous operation to 1925 (or date not known).” So this is not one of the Hayes River posts, but it is one familiar to me. When the HBC express-men went downriver to York Factory, they knew the river now called God’s River as the Shamattawa, and it flowed into the Hayes River north of the Fox. The mouth of this river was also the dividing line between what the fur traders called the Steel River, and the Hayes, or York Factory River.
If you want to know something more about the God’s Lake post, then get your hands on the book titled: Arctic Trader: The account of Twenty Years with the Hudson’s Bay Company, by Philip H. Godsell [Toronto: Macmillan Company, 1946]. He spent some time at the God’s Lake post. It’s also a good read, and it contains this entertaining story about life at York Factory:
One night… we were thrown into a state of great excitement by the terrific barking of the sleigh-dogs and the sound of piercing cries without. Then the door burst open and Sammy Grey was projected into the room as though shot from a catapult. He was pallid with fright, his normally large eyes almost popping out of his head. “Okemasis! Okemasis! Dere’s a debbil in de ice house!” yelled the frightened half-breed as he ran aimlessly around the room.
Moir was quietly pulling on his moccasins. Throwing on his blanket capote and seizing his rife, he dashed out into the square, quickly followed by myself, and in a few moments we were in the vicinity of the blubber house. A mob of frightened… natives encircled the building, though at a very respectful distance, as Moir and I approached. Something grey seemed to move within, and I felt my heart jump with sudden excitement.
“Polar bear! Polar bear!” whispered Moir excitedly. “Look! He’s eating the seal meat inside. Come on! Quick!” Next moment my companion was near the doorway. I saw the moonlight glint upon the rifle-barrel as he raised it. Two thunderous reports were followed a terrific noise within the building as the wounded and infuriated animal thrashed about, then fell, a huge grey shape, with paws extended, upon the threshold; the massive head swaying wildly from side to side…
So, enjoy the story! The next post is numbered 552, and is “Swampy Lake House. Hudson’s Bay Company post on Swampy Lake, Manitoba, a widening of the Hayes River, shown on maps no. 8 and 100.” [These map numbers may refer to maps in HBCA?] So this is one of the Hayes River posts, which according to The York Factory Express, was just west of “the last and worst rapid on Hill River.” Between Oxford House and Swampy Lake the Express men passed through Knee Lake and the rapid-filled Jack Tent River: once they were at Swampy Lake, the Dramstone Portage lay ahead of them, and the 40 or so rapids or portages that led down the Hill River to the Hayes — well, the Hill River IS the Hayes although it carries a umber of other names.
Next is 475, and it is “Rock Fort, Hudson’s Bay Company fort on Hayes River, Manitoba, below the falls and rapids, about 30 miles below Swampy Lake. Established before 1812, at which time it was in charge of John McLeod, Chief Trader. Sometimes called Old Rock House.” So this is another Hayes River post, and one I knew about. If I remember correctly, the Old Rock House was mainly a provisioning and storage post, supplying the outgoing York Boats with provisions and supplies and taking their packs of furs to ship downriver to York Factory. From The York Factory Express,
At long abandoned Rock Post, at the base of Rocky Portage, the HBC traders were 124 miles from York Factory.
In the HBRS volume, Saskatchewan Journals and Correspondence: Edmonton House, 1795-1800, and Chesterfield House, 1800-1802, I discovered Gordon House, which seems to be the old name for Rock House. In this volume, it is some 109 miles up the Hayes River from York Factory, and the Saskatchewan Brigades only went downriver as far as Gordon House before returning home again. At times, it seems, the Annual meetings for the Company were held here — once again preventing the gentlemen from going downriver all the way to York Factory.
I expect the next few posts will not be Hayes River posts, but those on God’s River. The next is 529, “Shamattawa River post. Hudson’s Bay Co post on right bank of Shammattawa River, tributary of Hayes River, about 48 miles from mouth of river.” Yes, this is a God’s River post. It may have existed when the Express men came downriver, but they would not have passed by this post.
Next is 168, “Flamborough Factory. Hudson’s Bay Company post on Hayes River, about 40 leagues from mouth, on Hayes Island, opposite Flamborough Head. It was built in 1750 to prevent “interlopers intercepting Indians before they could reach our Factory at York Fort.” (A league is three French miles, by the way, and a French mile is a little longer than an English mile.) So this is a Hayes River post, but one I have never heard of before! Were the interlopers the French traders, I wonder? In those days they might have been venturing down the Hayes River toward Hudson Bay!
Next and last is 380, and this will be, of course, York Factory itself. “Fort Nelson, called also Fort York, now York Factory, and under the French Fort Bourbon. Hudson’s Bay Company fort about 5 or 6 miles from Beacon Point at the outlet of Hayes River, on the north bank, Manitoba.” As you will see, this Hayes River fort had a lot of history, and Vorrhis’s document breaks it all down very nicely, although he omits some of it.
“1612-13. Sir Thomas Button wintered at Fort Nelson.
“1670. Hudson’s Bay Company erected a small establishment at Hart’s Creek, mouth of Nelson River. This fort soon disappeared.
“1673. The H.B.C. traded at Button’s wintering place.
“1682. Governor [?] Bridgar of H.B.C. erected a fort at Woodchuck Creek up the Nelson River, the fourth of the Company forts on Hudson Bay. This fort was seized by Pierre Esprit Radisson (at that time in the interests of the French) in the spring of 1683. The fort was destroyed and Governor Bridgar carried prisoner to Fort Bourbon.
“1682. Radisson after destruction of the H.B.C. fort, built a fort about 15 miles up Hayes River, above the present York Factory and on the right bank of the river, which he called Fort Bourbon. This Fort Bourbon was on the site of the later York Factory and above the present York Factory and on the opposite side of the river. Radisson was then acting in the interests of the Compagnie du Nord. Nelson River was then called Bourbon River by the French and the Hayes River Ste. Thérèse.
“1684. Radisson (now in the employ of the H.B.Co.) returned and seized Fort Bourbon for the H.B.C. and it was renamed Fort Nelson, and also called Fort York, and York Factory.
“1686. Pierre de Troyes, Chevalier de Troyes, captured all the H.B.Co. forts on Hudson and James Bays except Fort Nelson, the name of which was now changed to York Fort.
“1690. Governor [?] Phipps destroyed the fort to save it from the French.
“1691. York Fort was rebuilt by the H.B.Co. larger and stronger. It was located about 4 miles from the mouth of Nelson River on the south side of the triangular tongue of land bounded by the two river channels converging. [The Nelson River flowed into Hudson Bay and very short distance north of the mouth of the Hayes River]. It was a stockaded fort with bastions at the four corners. The river front was protected by earthworks and cannon. The fort had 38 cannon, & 14 swivel guns outside and 53 swivel guns inside. This fort stood for nearly 100 years until finally burned by the French in 1782.
“1694. Attacked by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and surrendered to the French October 14, 1894. It was renamed Fort Bourbon and the Hayes River called Ste. Thérèse, the fort having been captured on Ste. Thérèse day, October 14. The Nelson River was renamed Bourbon River.
“1696. Surrendered to the English 31 August 1696.
“1697. Attacked by d’Iberville and surrendered to the French, September 1697, and held by them until 1714, when it was handed back to the H.B.Co. by terms of the Treaty of Utrecht.
“1782. Captured by the French and finally destroyed [by French naval officer Jean-Francois de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse.] Remains of the old fort destroyed in 1782 are still visible. It had been built in the midst of swampy land, covered with low stunted spruce, almost impenetrable. The land never thaws more than from 12 to 18 inches in the hottest weather.
“1783. Rebuilt by the H.B.Co.
“1788-1793. Moved half a mile upstream to avoid floods to its present location, the work of removing and rebuilding occupying 5 years. The work was carried on under Joseph Colen, and several of the present buildings were constructed by him 1789. York Factory consists of several buildings arranged around a quadrangle; some being large warehouses, others are residences. The present location is about half a mile above the old fort. York Factory is the great warehouse depot of the Hudson’s Bay Co where a supply of goods etc is kept on hand to meet the demand of trade for two years. For over two centuries York Factory has been the central supply house for all the H.B.Co. posts of the western country, a great centre of distribution until the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1825.”
It seems that in 1930, when this work was written and published, York Factory still had some residences and buildings other than the old warehouse. Today the warehouse is the only building that still stands on the site. Everything else is gone, and no one lives there but the polar bears. Yes, York Factory is in polar bear country!
If you want to order my book, The York Factory Express, you can do so through the publisher, here: http://ronsdalepress.com/york-factory-express-the/ I believe, also, it is now on American Amazon (it was always on the Canadian Amazon, although I did not know that). So check that out if you wish. I have heard, too, that the e-book will be available soon, so keep an eye open for that.
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2022. All rights reserved.
- David Douglas’s Athabasca River
- James Anderson on Lake Franklin