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Wapusk National Park of Canada

History

York Factory on a cloudy day
York Factory on a cloudy day
© Parcs Canada

The cultural resources of Wapusk National Park (NP) are closely linked to the Prince of Wales Fort and York Factory National Historic Sites. More recently, the Churchill Rocket Research Range and its 1950s-vintage rocket launch facilities were declared a National Historic Site, and the construction of the Hudson Bay Railway is commemorated as a National Historic Event at its northern terminus in Churchill.

In 1610, the first European, explorer Henry Hudson, set foot on the shores of Hudson Bay, to be swiftly followed by many others. But the history of people in this region stretches back thousands of years earlier than that. Archaeological artifacts and sites dating long before those first contacts by European explorers are found throughout the region. The languages and traditional knowledge of the local Cree are preserved in place names here, reflecting the long-past history of this land as clearly as the Hudson Bay Company's stone and timber buildings represent historic resources of a much more recent era.

The earliest evidence of human occupation of the Wapusk NP area dates back to about 3,000 years ago. Preliminary archaeological work in the park suggests the majority of pre-European contact sites are found in the north end of park, and are associated with beach ridges. Those sites indicate that occupation was likely sporadic and seasonal.

The historic importance of the Wapusk NP region in the post-contact period is associated with the fur trade and its Aboriginal and European participants. Although initial contacts occurred in the region in the early 17th century, the early fur trade period spanned the century or so following the establishment in 1684 of York Fort, near the mouth of the Hayes River just south of the park. North and west of the park, near the mouth of the Churchill River, the Hudson's Bay Company built its Churchill River post in 1717. That post was slowly expanded and finally rebuilt, beginning in 173l, as the stone Prince of Wales Fort on the Churchill River's west peninsula.

York Fort (later named York Factory) is believed to have been the most important post in western Canada throughout the late 18th century, and for much of the 19th. In continuous operation from 1684 to 1957, it served as the Hudson Bay Company's main depot and as a point of entry to the west, via the Hayes River canoe and York boat route.

Prince of Wales Fort was destroyed by the French in 1782, but its successor, Fort Churchill, remained in existence until 1930 when it was abandoned in favour of the port facilities and townsite that developed on the river's east bank. Along with their roles in the fur trade, York Factory and Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Sites also commemorate the17th and 18th century French-English rivalry for control of the territory and resources around Hudson Bay.

Wapusk NP, the land between these two great centres of trade, was a source of furs and provisions for the two trading centres, and a travel corridor between them.

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