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Fort Ellice: 1831-1890

By the late 1700s, Native people were bartering goods with competing European traders near the junction of the Assiniboine and Qu’Appelle rivers. In response to competition from its American rivals, the Hudson’s Bay Company built Fort Ellice I in 1831.

Fort Ellice I developed into a major provisioning centre. By 1862, the old site was abandoned for a new one. Fort Ellice II became a half-way stopping point between Upper Fort Garry and Carlton House. As the gateway to the West, it provided freighters, traders, travellers and homesteaders with supplies, horses, oxen and carts.

Fort Ellice I (1831-1862)

Fort Ellice I was built to protect the Hudson’s Bay Company’s trade with the Assiniboin and Plains Cree from American competitors situated on the Missouri River. As a major post in the Swan River Trading District in the 1850s, the role of Fort Ellice shifted from the collection of furs and bison products to the distribution of supplies, horses, oxen and carts.

Fort Ellice I, 1859. Illustration by Manton Marble, “To the Red River and Beyond,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1860.

Fort Ellice II (1862-1890)

As its role as a provisioning centre became more important, the facilities at Fort Ellice were expanded to include more buildings and employees. A mission and school were run by the Church of England at the fort site, and the Roman Catholic Church serviced the spiritual needs of local Métis families at nearby St. Lazare.

Fort Ellice II, 1875. Canadian Illustrated News, 1875.

Steamboat Travel

In the late 1870s and 1880s, steamboats were introduced to carry goods and passengers up the Assiniboine River to Fort Ellice. Cargo was unloaded and stored at a wharf and in warehouses built to the east of the fort along the riverbank. The use of steamboats was short-lived due to the unreliable water levels of the Assiniboine and the construction of rail lines.

Fort Ellice II, 1882. Illustration by surveyor Pierre Horace Dumais. Hudson’s Bay Company Archives.

The End of an Era
The HBC gave up its commercial interests around 1890. In1889-90, the main buildings at Fort Ellice II (left to right) were: a trading store, a fur store containing a fur press, a warehouse for pemmican and dried meat, a dairy, the Chief Factor’s residence or Big House and an office building. Not visible was the postmaster’s house situated to the left of the office building.

Fort Ellice II, 1889-90. Photograph by F. Collyer. Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.