Located near Wool Bay outside the City of Yellowknife
are the remains of Old Fort Providence, a North West Company, and
later a Hudson's Bay Company, trading post.
One of the first posts on Great Slave Lake, it was established in
1786 by Peter Pond, a fur trader and explorer, as an outpost camp
and used for about two seasons. In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie replaced
Pond as the head of the North West Company's operations in the Athabasca
region and re-opened the camp as a trading post. On his exploration
of the great river called Deh Cho by the Dene and which later came
to bear his name, Mackenzie left a trader and a canoe full of goods
to set up the post.
Historical information is sketchy, although
it appears that Fort Providence was important for provisioning other
posts rather than for trading in pelts. Correspondence from the
post tells that the Dene were sometimes frustrated by the inadequate
supply of trade goods available there.
Fort Providence did play an important role
in supplying John Franklin's first expedition to the Arctic Coast.
Franklin stopped there in 1819 and gave the following account.
It has been erected for the
convenience of the Copper [Yellowknife] and Dog-rib Indians, who
generally bring such a quantity of rein-deer meat that the residents
are enabled, out of their superabundance, to send annually some
provision to the fort at Moose-Deer Island. They also occasionally
procure moose and buffalo meat, but these animals are not numerous
on this side of the lake. Few furs are collected. Les poissons
inconnus, trout, pike, carp, and white fish are very plentiful
and on these the residents principally subsist.
During the last decade of the eighteenth century,
some ten to twenty people, including women and children, lived there.
After its amalgamation with the North West Company, the Hudson's
Bay Company assumed control of the post in 1821. By this time Fort
Providence had been in decline for some years, and by 1822 had dwindled
to only a two-man operation. After thirty-seven years of service,
the post was abandoned in 1823.
Archaeological excavations of Old Fort Providence
were conducted in the summers of 1969 and 1971 by B. Dale Perry.
The remains of at least four buildings spread over one hectare were
discovered. Made of coniferous logs and heated with stone fireplaces,
three of these buildings were probably living quarters for the men
and officers; the fourth was the large main trade building. The
construction method used in the men's quarters is known as post-on-sill
in which horizontal sill logs form a framework for vertical posts.
The main trade building was identified by the goods including beads,
jewellery, musket parts, and ammunition, recovered there.
The buildings of Fort Providence have long
since decayed; the site has become overgrown with vegetation, and
all that remains visible today are the stone fireplaces.
Old Fort Providence should not be confused
with the post of the same name located on the Mackenzie River, at
the site of the present-day community of Fort Providence.
There is still much to be learned from the
remains of Old Fort Providence. It is protected from any disturbance
by the Northwest Territories
Archaeological Sites Regulations.
Acknowledgments: "Fort Providence,
NWT: A preliminary report of the excavations carried out July 1969."
The Musk-ox, No. 8, pp. 1-13, by B. Dale Perry and W. Dean Clark
(1971). Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea in
the Years 1819, 20, 21, and 22 by John Franklin. Edmonton, M. G.
Hurtig Ltd. pp. 208-209.