Old Fort Providence
Statement of Significance
TThe remains of the trading post Old Fort Providence are located near Wool Bay, outside of Yellowknife Bay on Great Slave Lake. The remains of at least four buildings spread over one hectare were discovered in archaeological excavations conducted in 1969. 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 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.
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 Dehcho 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 (Tłįchǫ) 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 main trade building was identified by the goods including awls, hide scrapers, stone tool remains, beads, jewellery, musket parts, and ammunition, recovered there.
Key elements that define the heritage character of Old Fort Providence include:
- Its location on Great Slave Lake, and proximity to the Yellowknife River and Wool Bay where numerous groups of Dene gathered.
- Located close to the trails leading to hunting areas in the Barrenlands and recognized as a meat provisioning post.
- One of the first trading posts established on Great Slave Lake.
- Used by both the Tłįchǫ and Yellowknife Dene for trading.
- Inhabited largely by Métis voyageurs, translators and their families who made up the workforce at the post.
- Used by both the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company.
- The site’s association with both Alexander Mackenzie and John Franklin, early European explorers.
- Provided important archaeological finds which document trading posts at the turn of the eighteenth century.
- Perry, B. Dale and W. Dean Clark, Fort Providence, NWT: A preliminary report of the excavations carried out July 1969. The Musk-ox, No. 8, pp. 1-13, 1971.
- Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre; Government of the Northwest Territories. “Old Fort Providence.” Northern Vignettes.Yellowknife, 1991.
- Trothier, Roger B., “Fort Providence (1786-1823)” The Musk-Ox No. 8, pg. i, 1971.