Fort Espérance National Historic Site of Canada

History

Fort Espérance is a member of the family of almost 900 National Historic Sites across Canada.

Fort Espérance is of national historic significance because: 

  • It was one of the earliest and most permanent of the North West Company’s posts in the Assiniboine basin; and 
  • It was the main pemmican depot in the Company’s continental fur trade and provisioned brigades to the Churchill and Athabasca River regions.

With the exception of the subtle imprint of agricultural land use in the form of hay fields and grazing, little has changed here since the North West Company established the first post here in 1787. It is a complex site consisting of two distinct but continuous areas. The original Fort Espérance was located on a flat piece of land situated on the banks of the river. This area has undergone some agricultural development and as a result there is little surface evidence of what was once on the site. A rough path links this are to a raised bench of land to the southwest where the second Fort Espérance was moved in 1816 to avoid flooding.

From 1787 to 1820, the lower Qu’Appelle valley played an important role in the fur trade of the northwest. Although far from the fur yielding forests to the north, the valley was adjacent to the prairies where great herds of bison abounded. Here the North West Company located its chief pemmican provision post for the Assiniboine River district. Fort Espérance, notwithstanding several relocations, was one of the company’s most important posts on the Qu’Appelle River until its operations ceased in 1819. Robert Grant, a partner of the newly-formed North West Company, built Fort Espérance in 1787 on the flats by the river. Although most of the site now lies in a ploughed field, a few depressions – indicating cellars, are still visible.

From 1801-05 the post received competition from a rival XY Company fort, a mile down-river, also on the south bank. Fort Espérance remained at its original location until about 1810 when John McDonald of Garth moved the department headquarters to a site on the Qu’Appelle lakes, the exact location of which is still undetermined. In 1814 the North West Company again moved to a location on the north bank of the river, two miles west of Big Cut Arm Creek, naming it Fort John. Fort John served as a point of departure for Cuthbert Grant’s attack on the Selkirk settlers and is now a provincial historic site.

In 1816 at the height of the conflict, the NorWesters, after burning the Hudson’s Bay Company fort, which stood a few hundred yards away, moved back to within 300 yards of the original 1787 site. The Hudson’s Bay Company people re-established their post on the Assiniboine River, just above Beaver Creek. The second Fort Espérance was built on the knoll higher up on the bank to better overlook the Qu’Appelle valley. The location put the fort in a strong defensive position, necessary in those troubled times. Cellar and fireplace remains can still clearly be seen on this site; a depression around the remains indicates where the stockade once stood.