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Fort Carlton, Saskatchewan

For those waiting for my regular monthly blog for June 2023, here it is. A little off my usual cruising topic and eight days late. The reasons are twofold:


1. I want to shift focus to a distinctly Canadian historic location situated in the middle of Canada’s prairies; and

2. I just returned from Saskatchewan, and I was unable to post on time.


I will be returning to my usual theme in a few weeks but as you will soon learn, Fort Carlton, although not a “port stop” in the cruising sense of the word, was a type of port. From 1795 until 1885, it was an important waterway trading hub. Strategically placed beside the North Saskatchewan River, a major water artery, it attracted fur traders from all over the Canadian west.


Firstly, I want to touch a bit on the size of the river and its tributaries because it reaches approximately 1,940 kilometers across western Canada. The two main arteries are the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers that join together to become the mighty Saskatchewan River before making its way into Lake Winnipeg. When you include all the tributaries (including the Bow River), the waterways flow from parts of British Columbia, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and cover a huge amount of land.


Having family living in Saskatchewan, I spent time in that province when my grandparents hosted either the family or just me. I have particularly fond memories of visiting Melfort, Saskatchewan, their home for many years, but on this trip, I was going to stay in Saskatoon. On my last visit to Saskatoon, I broke my foot so my recollection of that stop is not as favourable as those of Melfort and I was hoping that no mishap would occur prior to, or on the trip. This time, I was travelling with my husband and we were attending a family reunion. We chose to arrive a day early so we would have a chance to visit Fort Carlton. Had I planned a little better, we would have arrived four days in advance and had the opportunity to visit a few other historic locations such as Duck Lake, Fort Walsh and of course Regina. Consequently, a return visit is in the plans.


We flew into Saskatoon and the next day we set off in our rental car to drive a little over 100 kilometres to the fort. About 21 of those kilometres was on a gravel road that we later learned was the “good road” as the alternate route, which is normally paved, was under construction and in “rough shape”. Our anticipated one-hour journey took us an hour and twenty minutes. The view of the prairie flat lands has changed over the years and I was no longer seeing extensive fields of wheat but instead I was treated to vast tracts of land bathed in the bright yellow of canola crops. Absolutely stunning in their brightness. My photos do not do it justice.


We arrived at Fort Carlton provincial park and found the entry fee to the fort is $11, with seniors 65 and older being given free access. You can camp at the site and the prices are as follows:


Nightly Camping[ [1]

Service

Fee

Full Service

$44 per night


Electric

$33 per night


Non-Electric

$20 per night


Equestrian

$20 per night


Economy

$18 per night

When we arrived, the reconstructed fort came into view along with the visitor’s center. The free parking lot is located in front and a little to the right of the entrance. There were three cars and a camper in the parking lot and one of those cars was about to leave which assured us that our pre-weekend visit would be crowd free.


We entered the visitors center and were given a friendly greeting by Brenda who explained a bit about the history of the area and invited us to join a personal tour that had just started in the fort itself. She also gave us an envelope with three post cards and useful information about the fort and the Blackstrap provincial park campgrounds. I have included a picture of one of the postcards as it gives a better view of the fort.[2]


We easily walked to the fort itself and joined a tour consisting of two people and a guide (Sharesa). We learned that the fort was an important hub for the Hudson’s Bay Company and engaged in trading with the indigenous peoples and the settlers of the western area. It was also the mail exchange point so people from all over the region picked up and dropped off their personal mail (and mail for their specific area).


We learned that this exact location was the third Fort Carlton in the immediate area with this precise location chosen around 1810. It was attacked in 1824 by the plains indigenous peoples believed to be of the Cree tribes (not the Ojibwa). The attack was repelled. Trade continued but there was disparity in the treatment of white and indigenous persons which can be seen in the way the two groups were granted access to the trading store. You will see in the pictures I have posted below, that white people were able to enter the store and go to the counter to have a look at all the goods on offer while indigenous and Metis peoples were only allowed to look into the store through the half door of a side room. Our guide in the store was Beckie, who was very knowledgeable about the goods and services offered. She also gave us a demonstration of how to load a black powder gun.


Fort Carlton suffered a smallpox epidemic in 1869 that also decimated the local peoples. Between 1871 and 1877, eleven treaties were signed, all of which fall under the auspices of Treaty 6. This treaty is an agreement between the crown and the various plains and woods Cree and Assiniboine. I had done a little bit of research about that treaty prior to visiting the fort and found that it was different from the original first five treaties signed by the crown. The Carlton Cree had negotiated the inclusion of a medicine chest at the house of the “Indian Agent” on the reserve, protection from famine, education on the reserve and additional agricultural implements to allow for farming. Despite the education provision, I noted that there appears to have been residential schools within the Treaty Six area so clearly, I have more research to do to determine why this occurred. For those unfamiliar with the concept of the residential schools, the schools were established to assimilate indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture and that will be the subject of a future article.


By 1880, the fort was no longer run by the Hudson’s Bay Company and was primarily a fort run by the Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP). The NWMP was the predecessor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In 1885, a large group of Métis and indigenous peoples had an encounter with the NWMP and a number of volunteers. At first there was an attempt to circumvent conflict, but a short battle ensued and nine volunteers and three members of the police were killed. On the opposite side of the conflict, five Métis and one indigenous warrior died. The NWMP retreated to Fort Carlton and then evacuated the fort. Before they left for Prince Albert, the fort was set on fire. The official record says the fire was an accident, but anecdotal stories indicate the fort was deliberately set ablaze to ensure there was nothing of value left.


A decision by the federal government in 1967 was made to reconstruct Fort Carlton and ten years later, in 1976, it was designated a national historic site of Canada. It features a partial reconstruction of the fort as it was around 1880, and currently includes four replica buildings of "Red River frame" construction. There is a teepee (aka: tipi or tepee), outside the main gate of the fort. I learned that the distinction between a teepee and wigwam rests in the difference between the portability of the structure. A teepee is more of a tent like assembly and is quickly assembled and disassembled.


The fort is no longer directly beside the river as the river has moved over the last 138 years. We would have loved to dig in the area as we are sure there are historical artifacts to be found but use of metal detectors and digging is prohibited. The site was designated a provincial park of Saskatchewan in 1986. On our way back to our vehicle, we stopped at the visitors center to have a look at the displays and speak with Brenda again who is extremely knowledgeable about the area and specifically about Treaty Six.


On our drive back to Saskatoon, we were treated to the Saskatchewan big sky, great cloud movements and a storm in the distance. Absolutely beautiful.


Overall, we quite enjoyed our visit to the fort and recommend it to anyone in the area. As mentioned, there is more to see in the region, and we plan on a repeat visit. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to drop me a line at: gailgauvreau@gailgauvreau.com or leave them on this page.

[2] The photography on the postcard is credited to Danny and Judy Boyer.


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