York Factory National Historic Site of Canada

Saving York Factory Riverbank Erosion Project - Summer 2012

The iconic Hudsons Bay Company Depot at Yorks Factory National Historic Site The iconic Hudsons Bay Company Depot at Yorks Factory National Historic Site
© Parks Canada

York Factory National Historic Site has experienced a longstanding history of riverbank erosion, which is now recognized as having reached a critical state. In 2003, the Auditor General’s Report on the protection of heritage places in Canada identified York Factory as a threatened site and stated that immediate action was imperative “to prevent the permanent loss” of the site.

In response, Parks Canada worked with partner organizations to establish the Saving York Factory Project, a complex multi-year undertaking to determine what, if anything, could be done to save the site. The organizations involved in the project are Parks Canada, Churchill Northern Studies Centre, Natural Resources Canada, University of Manitoba, Fox Lake Cree Nation and York Factory First Nation.


A brief history

York Factory National Historic Site is a significant reminder of the vibrant fur trade which contributed to the development of Canada. This now isolated former Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) outpost, situated near the mouth of the Hayes River and Hudson Bay, has endured for more than three centuries, but its future is uncertain.

York Factory was established in 1684 by the HBC and operated continuously until the post closed in 1957. The Government of Canada designated York Factory a national historic site in 1936 because of its critical role in the French-English struggle on Hudson Bay for control of the fur trade, as an important HBC trading post and entrepôt for more than two and a half centuries, and as the principal base for expansion of the fur trade into the interior of western Canada.

Learn more: History of York Factory

What did the York Factory Project team study?

In 2007, a multidisciplinary team, made up of representatives from the partner organizations, began investigations to understand the many factors at play in the erosion problem at York Factory. Over the following five years, the project team carried out:

  • Archaeological monitoring to track the eroding riverbank and to identify immediate threats to cultural materials remaining from the days when people lived at York Factory;
  • Botanical research to inventory the on-site vegetation and to determine if vegetation management can be used to reduce the rate of riverbank erosion;
  • Historical research on the Hudson Bay Company’s challenges with surface drainage and riverbank erosion at York Factory;
  • Explorations of First Nations’ traditional knowledge from people who lived and worked at York Factory or had relatives who lived on-site to help understand how the site was maintained in the past;
  • Permafrost research to understand how the frozen nature of the soil contributes to its stability and ability to both support the historic structures and resist erosion;
  • Hydrological investigations to learn how the surface and subsurface flow of water may contribute to riverbank erosion;
  • Digital elevation modelling using high-resolution imagery to create a map that describes how water flows across the surface at York Factory to support monitoring and recording riverbank erosion, and;
  • Digital elevation modelling using high-resolution imagery to create a map that describes how water flows across the surface at York Factory to support monitoring and recording riverbank erosion, and;
  • Design, installation and monitoring of a pilot bank stabilisation project on a portion of the riverbank.

Project status update – Summer 2012

Weather monitoring equipemtnat York Factory National Historic Site Weather monitoring equipemtnat York Factory National Historic Site
© Parks Canada

In total, Parks Canada has invested approximately $1.6 million in the Saving York Factory Project. Although the physical work on-site has been completed, continual monitoring of the site will take place. This scientific monitoring will provide the Saving York Factory Project team with further information that will be used to develop a final report with recommendations for the future of this important site.