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Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site of Canada

York Boats

Fur trade transportation at Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site

The York boat—named after York Factory, the Hudson’s Bay Company headquarters in northern Manitoba—was truly an innovation inspired by the rugged wilderness of western and northern Canada. It was a boat that was tough, could be operated by oar or by sail, able to carry lots of cargo and still light enough to be dragged by its crew when portaging was necessary. For all these reasons, York boats were the transportation workhorse of the Hudson’s Bay Company in western Canada.

Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site has three of these legendary boats on site. They were constructed as one project of a larger investment by the Government of Canada to increase awareness of Métis history and culture and building strong, effective and mutually beneficial working relationships with Métis and other Aboriginal groups. York boats were often manned by Métis crew.

All three boats were built with locally-sourced wood (just like the historic boats were). One is a historically accurate reproduction approximately 12.8 metres in length (42 feet), which is on display inside the walls of Lower Fort Garry. The other two are approximately 11 metres in length (36 feet) and were built to Transport Canada standards for carrying passengers, with a special polymer coating to protect them from water damage.

Some quick historical facts about York boats:

  • The York boat’s design was based on a boat called the Orkney yole, which in turn was based on the Viking long ship
  • York boats usually had a crew of six to eight men (including a steersman), many of whom were Red River Métis, and could be rowed or operated under sail
  • York boats could carry up to six tonnes of cargo

Parks Canada captured imagery of the boat’s construction that has been woven together into a video illustrating the process.