March 2000, the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre acquired
a rare historical document. Almost 200 years old, this document
offers a unique view of life at the first trading posts on the shores
of Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River.
The Yellow Knife Fort Journal is an account,
written in French, on pieces of birch bark. Jean
Steinbruck, a voyageur and trader engaged by the North
West Company, wrote this journal that introduces us to our early
French Canadian fur trade heritage.
The journal was written in 1802 when Steinbruck
was posted at Yellow Knife Fort (MAP).
Trade goods were late reaching the fort that year and, as a result,
Steinbruck was left without many supplies, including paper. He used
the birch bark from his canoe repair kit to keep a trading record
of the post for the North West Company. This record dates from November
to March 1802-03.
The birch bark journal not only tells of the
trading that took place at the fort, but also describes the daily
routine of life at Yellow Knife Fort; the hardships, the activities
of people living in the area, the animal life and the continual
conflict with the NW Co.s trading rival, the XY
For generations, the Canadian fur trade was
based in Montreal and in an area around the Great Lakes known as
the petit Nord. In the late 1700s, traders extended the fur
trade into the grand Nord, an area which now includes the NWT. Steinbruck
was one of many French speaking traders who travelled west and north
to be a part of this lively trade.
Several trading companies competed for control
of the fur trade at this time, the more well known being the Hudsons
Bay Company, the North West Company and the XY Company.
The fur trade has left a lasting legacy in
the Northwest Territories. Many of the fur traders were French Canadian
and maps, place names, journals and family names reflect this French