North Saskatchewan Posts

Tracking the York Boats upriver.
This tracking image is used with the permission of the Glenbow Archives, image na-949-115. The guide yells “Haul, Haul,” while the voyageurs pull the boats upriver and the gentlemen stand by, watching.

The posts on the North Saskatchewan River had a much more confusing history than those on the Saskatchewan, having to close or change locations many times over the years! Again, this information comes mainly from Ernest Voorhis’s manuscript, “Historic Forts and Trading Posts of the French regime and of the English Fur Trading Companies,” which you can find online. I did, however, find sorting out the posts in this part of the river very much more confusing than on the Saskatchewan River!

I do not know if these forts are in exact order, but I got as close as I could with the information I had. So, starting from the east — that is the mouth of the North Saskatchewan River where it flows into the Saskatchewan — and heading upriver toward the west, we have:

Fort Montagne d’Aigle — A North West Company fort on the north side of the North Saskatchewan River, 9 miles below the mouth of Battle River, in a low bottom of the valley. It was built by John Cole, a Canadian free-trader, in 1779-80. Cole was killed by First Nations men (Cree) in 1780: I wrote about this, here: But I hadn’t known this: the Hudson’s Bay Company men had built an adjoining fortified fort, also known as Eagle Hill fort. These combined forts were close to being the first posts on the North Saskatchewan River, if not the first.

Fort Battle River — About 1805 the North West Co established a small post, also called Fort War Road, near the mouth of Battle River [Battleford, SK]. The HBC had also established a post near by, on the north or left bank of the North Saskatchewan above the mouth of the Battle River. The main Hudson’s Bay Co. fort was probably built soon after the coalition of 1821. [It did not, however, exist during the years of the York Factory Express, 1826-1854, or they would have called there]. It lay in the centre of disaffection in the rebellion of 1885, Poundmaker residing in the region. Both settlement and fort were attacked by First Nations, and the fort’s stores plundered. It was not re-established.

Fort Albert — Hudson’s Bay Company fort on the North Saskatchewan River about 42 miles from Carlton House, site of the present town of Prince Albert. It was built about 1865 [so didn’t exist when the York Factory Express went down the river, but the Saskatchewan Brigades would certainly have known it]. Closed about 1885. Pierre de la Vérendrye is said to have established a post at Prince Albert on one of the islands. The First Nations had chosen this spot as one of their rallying points. Here, in 1866, Rev. James Nesbit founded the mission of Prince Albert for the First Nations People — or “Prince Albert for Indians,” if that happens to be the actual name of the Mission.

Hudson’s House (2) was built by William Tomison 15 miles farther down the river than the first Hudson’s House, see below, about 1788-1789, and named after George Hudson, an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. This was called “Lower Hudson House.” It stood a short distance above the present Prince Alberta, and 3 or 4 miles below a place known as Yellow Banks.

Hudson’s House — A small HBC post built by Philip Turnor, surveyor for the Company, in 1776 and shown on his map of 1790 on the left bank of the North Saskatchewan River about 80 miles above the Forks. It was located 280 miles above Cumberland House, of which it constituted an outpost, and was then the uppermost settlement on the North Saskatchewan River. This house was occupied for some years. You can learn more about Philip Turnor from Barbara Mitchell’s book, Mapmaker: Philip Turnor in Rupert’s Land in the Age of Enlightenment.

Fort Du Milieu — a North West Company fort on the North Saskatchewan River, known as the Middle Fort or Half Way House. Alexander Henry Jr. passed it September 5 1808, and observed that “it had been abandoned many years ago.” David Thompson also passed the site in 1809. It was 2 1/2 hours down from Carlton (Crossing Place) and 1 hour before Yellow Banks, and 2 1/2 hours above the site of old Hudson’s House. It was about half way between Carlton House and Prince Albert.

Carlton House or Fort Carlton — Hudsons Bay Co. fort on the North Saskatchewan. It was considered half-way to Edmonton House. Built in 1787 on south side of the river. It was a substantial fort, surrounded by high palisades with a gallery armed with wall pieces surrounding the whole square, and having square towers at each corner. The palisades were still standing in 1862, but it was in ruined condition by 1875. During the rebellion of 1885 it was raided and apparently was discontinued soon after. It was principally a provisioning station supplying 300 bags of pemmican per annum. Alexander Henry Jr. visited the fort in 1808. It was also known as The Crossing Place and Fort du Monté. The North West Company fort was known as Fort La Montée and was one of their principal meat depots. Monté means mounting place, ie. places where horses were taken to go overland.

Fort La Montée — North West Co. fort on North Saskatchewan about 3 miles upstream from Carlton House on north side of the river. Built about 1797. It was used chiefly as a provisioning station and was one of their principal meat depots. Here canoes were exchanged for horses, if going north to Green Lake and Beaver River or south to the South Saskatchewan River at Batoche.

Manchester House — Hudson’s Bay Company post on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River, 42 miles above Battleford and 425 miles above Cumberland House. It was located above the Forks (Prince Albert) and about 3 1/2 miles above the mouth of Horse Creek (now Englishman River). It was built by David Thompson in 1786. Fort Pitt was erected in 1831 a few miles distant. Manchester House was plundered by the Fall Indians (Atsina) in the autumn of 1793.

Fort Pitt — Hudson’s Bay Company House on south bank of the North Saskatchewan River. It was a square palisaded and bastioned fort, situated 100 yards from the river, and built in 1831.

Fort Vermilion — Both the North West Company and the HBC built closely adjoining forts called Vermilion in 1808, on the North Saskatchewan River directly opposite the mouth of Vermilion River, Alberta. Both of these forts were abandoned on the same day, May 31, 1810, and the goods were transported to new forts at the mouth of White Earth River about 87 miles upstream. I understand that the HBC house was called “Paint River House,” though Voorhis does not recognize the name.

Turtle River House — North West Company house on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River about one mile below the mouth of Turtle River, and 4 1/2 miles above the mouth of Jackfish river, near the town of Delmas, Saskatchewan. Alexander Henry Jr. passed the old Turtle post, which stood in a low bottom on the south bank. In 1800, David Thompson found the post in ruins.

Buckingham House — Hudson’s Bay Company post on the North Saskatchewan River, 350 miles above Cumberland House and close to the North West Company’s Fort George. Built in 1780 by Mitchell Oman, abandoned in 1801 in favour of Island Fort, 18 miles farther up the river. David Thompson visited this post 1793-94.

Fort George — A North West company fort on the North Saskatchewan about 25 miles above old Fort Vermilion, on the north bank, 4 1/2 miles above mouth of Moose Creek. Built by Angus Shaw in 1792. It was abandoned in 1801 in favour of Island fort 18 miles up the river. It was the most westerly house in 1798. In 1809 it was in ruins, only the chimneys being visible. The fort was afterwards rebuilt and taken over by the Hudson’s Bay Company. It was in the immediate vicinity of Buckingham House.

Fort De l’Isle (2) — A North West Company fort on the North Saskatchewan River about 20 miles above Fort George, built by Decoigne, 1801. (I believe it moved upriver to become the fort immediately below).

Fort De l’Isle — Two small trading posts of the North West Company and Hudson’s Bay Company in the vicinity of Manchester House. Mentioned by McDonald of Garth, also by Alexander Henry Jr., Sept 1808, who says “this was old Fort Brulé abandoned some years ago.” It was built on the north side of the river. David Thompson names it Island House and in 1808 he called it “Burnt Fort de l’Isle.” It was abandoned before 1800. The Fall Indians (Atsina) plundered and burnt the Hudson’s Bay Company post at this place in 1793 but were repulsed from the North West Company post.

Island House — An HBC fort on the North Saskatchewan River near Englishman river and about 3 miles below Manchester House. It was attacked by Fall Indians in 1793, plundered and burnt. Later another Island House was built farther up Saskatchewan River above Fort George. Thompson was there in 1800.

Old White Mud Fort — Hudson’s Bay Company fort on north side of the North Saskatchewan River, about 2 1/2 miles east of the confluence of Wabamun Creek (White Lake Creek). It was one of the early forts in this region being established in 1810 when both Forts Augustus and Edmonton were abandoned and re-established as White Mud Fort at White Mud Creek, where they remained until about 1818. This fort was maintained until at least 1875. However, the York Factory Express did not stop there.

Fort Augustus — Six forts with this name were in the neighbourhood of Edmonton over the years. The first fort constructed was that of the North West Company, known as Fort Augustus, sometimes called Upper Fort des Prairies, on the North Saskatchewan River, north bank, a little more than one mile above the mouth of Sturgeon Creek, and about 20 miles air line east from present city of Edmonton. It was built by Angus Shaw and Duncan McGillivray, 1794. David Thompson was there in 1808 and Alexander Henry Jr. passed in 1809. It was destroyed in 1807 by Blackfoot Indians.

The 2nd Fort Augustus was built in 1798 by the Hudson’s Bay Company, close beside Fort Augustus, and was named Fort Edmonton in compliment to John Peter Pruden, clerk, a native of Edmonton, near London. It was built by George Sutherland, and was sometimes called Fort des Prairies. This fort was destroyed by the Blackfoot at the same time as Fort Augustus. Well, no wonder the HBC men were so afraid of the Blackfoot! (So these must be the two forts that were near the town of modern day Fort Saskatchewan, which town is named for a military post, not a fur trade one.)

Both of these forts were the most western stations until 1799 when Rocky Mountain House was built 200 miles farther upstream.

The 3rd Fort Augustus was built in 1808 by James Hughes, of the North West Company, on the site of the present city of Edmonton, 20 miles in a straight line upstream from old Fort Augustus. This fort was abandoned in 1810 and destroyed by the Blackfoot.

The 4th Fort Augustus was built in the same year, 1808, by John Rowand of the Hudson’s Bay Company. It was close by the NWC’s new Fort Augustus. Both these forts were abandoned in 1810 and re-established several miles further upstream at the mouth of White Mud creek, and went by the name of Old Fort Whitemud and Upper Terre Blanche Fort. In May 1811, Alexander Henry Jr. camped for the night at the nearly demolished Fort Augustus which had been abandoned 1810. “We pitched our tent inside the old House for the night.”

An X.Y. Company fort was also in the neighbourhood, built in 1798 and 1810. And if you want to learn more about Edmonton House, get Brock Silversides’s book, Fort de Prairies: the Story of Fort Edmonton [Victoria: Heritage House, 2005].

Edmonton House — Voorhis called this Fort Edmonton and it may have named that for the first few years. The old fort on the site of present day Edmonton was occupied again, and repaired before 1819. At first it was built on the river flats but later was moved to the top of the bluff and strongly reinforced. “Its defences were maintained till recent times because of hostile Indians” — (this was written in 1930 but the stockade was pulled down in August 1884). The fort was hexagonal in form with high pickets and bastions and battlemented gateways on the perpendicular height commanding the river. “It was painted inside and out with Indian devices, gaudy colours and queer sculptures. The buildings were painted red and smeared with red earth which, when mixed with oil, produces a durable brown,” (says Sir George Simpson, 1843). In 1911 the fort was removed to allow the construction of the Parliament buildings.

Boggy Hall — A North West Company fort on the North Saskatchewan River above Blue Rapids, on the west bank about 10 miles below the confluence of the Brazeau River. David Thompson visited the site of this abandoned post in 1810, where the North West Co had been located for two years. From a quick check it seems to be in or near Drayton Valley: correct me if I am wrong.

Buck Lake House also appears to have been in Drayton Valley. It is a HBC post on the North Saskatchewan, on the north bank opposite the mouth of Duck Lake Creek, about 20 miles upstream from the old White Mud fort. It was a small post not listed in the Company lists.

Quagmire House — North West Company post on the North Saskatchewan below Rocky Rapids, about 3 1/2 miles upstream from Buck Lake House in the circular bend of the river, on the north side. It was called by Thompson, Fort Muskey or Mukako in 1809. Alexander Henry Jr. was there in 1811 and says “an establishment of ours on the north side, abandoned several years ago, situation being improper for trade, the remains of which are still standing. It was the most inconvenient spot for an establishment on the river, being surrounded by a deep swamp.”

Rocky Mountain House — North West Company post on the North Saskatchewan River, 1 1/4 miles above the mouth of Clearwater River, 3 miles below Pangman’s Tree (1790) on north bank of the river, 70 yards from the river’s edge. (Pangman’s Tree was probably a Maypole Tree.) It stood on a high bank, well adapted for defence as block-houses commanded the fort. It was in Blackfoot territory, hence it was sometimes called “Blackfeet House.” Built by John McDonald of Garth in 1802, although the first structure was erected in 1799. The ruins of the post were still visible in 1886. After the union of the two companies it was occupied by the HBC men for many years and finally discontinued in 1875.

Acton House — This is the Hudson’s Bay Company house adjoining the North West Co. house called Rocky Mountain House, on the North Saskatchewan River near the mouth of Clearwater River. The name, Acton House, was given to distinguish it from the NWC house, but it was generally called Rocky Mountain House.

So we have the listing of forts on the North Saskatchewan River, according to Ernest Voorhis, but whether or not they are in perfect order I do not know. Some of these forts moved up and down the river many times, and so the dates might be of the later forts, though in some stories you will run across the earlier forts some distance downstream. In the case of Edmonton House, the forts moved whenever they cut down the trees that were close to them, and of course they went through a tremendous amount of wood every winter, keeping themselves warm with huge fireplaces and wood burning stoves. I am also surprised to see how many of these posts were attacked and destroyed by the First Nations people, particularly the Fall Indians — who are, by the way, the “Big Bellies,” more properly called the Gros Ventres. Today they are the Atsina, and they retreated south into American Territory, where they now live, because of relentless pressure from the Cree and the Assiniboines. They were so troublesome that it seems to me likely that the HBC men were not unhappy to see them chased out of the territory.

If you wish to order “The York Factory Express,” you can do so through my publisher, here: The book tells the story of the HBC men who journey to Hudson Bay and return every year, in the York Factory Express and the Saskatchewan Brigades. Thank you!

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2020. All rights reserved.