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Algoma’s Fur Trading History

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Algoma’s Fur Trading History

The Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site contains two of the oldest stone buildings, located northwest of Toronto. • Credit: Algoma Country

Part One: Learn About the Life of a Fur Trader

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Algoma Country has a strong cultural history; the region was home to Indigenous People long before the first explorers and adventurers discovered the New World. What these explorers discovered would have astounded them: thick, lush green forests, towering mountains and cliffs, pristine lakes, rivers and streams, and an abundance of wildlife. These true north sights are still here today.

With the coming of the first explorers also came map making, settlements and economic opportunities like the fur trade. Because of the fur trade, our region was developed and settled, forming many of the cities and towns. 

In a previous article, I listed trading post and general stores in Algoma for visitors wanting some nostalgic old-fashioned shopping. But to get a truer picture of fur trade life in our region, this five-part blog series provide you with all the different ways you can experience Algoma's history and culture. Perfect for your next road trip, or to explore the wilderness the same way explorers did hundreds of years ago.

Where Were Trading Posts Located in Algoma?

Hudson’s Bay Company Posts:
-Batchawana Bay
-Agawa Bay
-Brunswick Lake House
-White River
-Fort Pic

North West Company Posts:
-Michipicoten North West Company Post
-South of the St. Marys River, Sault Ste. Marie
-Mississagi River

After the War of 1812, these two companies merged. Read the Hudson's Bay Company Timeline

Can you visit any of these trading posts today? 

The posts were abandoned, many by the early 1900s. Some sites are ruins, barely visible today. I did a search online and found a photo of a building that housed the Hudson’s Bay Company Post in the town of Missanabie. It was taken by a photographer and uploaded to Ontario Abandoned Places in 2006.


Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site
The Ermatinger Old Stone House is the restored home of Charles Oakes-Ermatinger, who was a fur trader and prominent local resident of Sault Ste. Marie. The home depicts the family and business life of Mr. Ermatinger when he lived here from 1808 to 1896. Each room of the home depicts how the family lived during the 1800s and how Mr. Ermatinger may have conducted his business. 

One of many room exhibits inside the Ermatinger Old Stone House. (Photo credit: Algoma Country)

The Clergue Blockhouse has its own interesting history. Dating back to 1819, the stone foundation of the blockhouse was the stone powder magazine built by the North West Company, later standing on property owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company. When Mr. Francis H. Clergue purchased the HBC’s property to build his paper mill in Sault Ste. Marie, he converted the abandoned stone foundation into a blockhouse where he lived. The blockhouse is fully restored and available for tours. 

(Photo credit: Algoma Country)

Hours of Operation: year round. List of dates and times at the www.ecnhs.com or phone (705) 759-5443. 
What to know: admission fees apply, gift shop, rest rooms, events and festivals

More in Sault Ste. Marie: a sign on the waterfront boardwalk marks the North West Company Post site. View a photo of the marker online.

Plan Your Stay in Sault Ste. Marie. There are many choices from branded hotels, family operated motels and even cottages, all able to meet any preference and budget.

Timber Village Museum
The North West Company established a fur trading post at the mouth of the Mississagi River in 1789; French explorers discovered the North Channel of Lake Huron and turned it into a voyageur route. The settlement that developed near the post is the town of Blind River. All that remains of the company post is a pile of timber and an old cemetery near Fox Island. Read this article from the archives of the Timber Village Museum and Blind River Library to learn more.

The red arrow points to where the Hudson's Bay Company Post stood in 1905. (Photo credti: Timber Village Museum)

One of the few gravestones located at the old fur trade cemetery near Blind River. (Photo credit: Timber Village Museum)

It’s important to note that the site isn’t easy to reach, so instead, visitors can enjoy the fur trade exhibit at the Timber Village Museum. The exhibit includes information about how fur traders and voyageurs lived and worked, clothing they would have worn, tools they would have used and their relationship with the local Indigenous people.

Fur Trade and Exploration exhibit at the Timber Village Museum. (Photo credit: Timber Village Museum)

Hours of Operation: year round. List of dates and times at www.blindriver.ca or phone (705) 356-7544.
What to know: admission fees apply, gift shop, special exhibits and events, restrooms

Plan Your Stay on the North Channel of Lake Huron. Motels, bed & breakfasts, cottages and camping are available within Blind River and the surrounding area. Put the Timber Village Museum on your list of day trips.

The Mackenzie / Bethune Cemetery
The life of fur traders and voyageurs was hard. Factors included the environment, a scarcity of reliable food sources, skirmishes with local groups and amongst each other, not to mention rivalries amongst the fur trade companies. The Bethune Cemetery, a small quiet cemetery in Wawa, is the final resting place of frontiersmen and women from the 19th and 20th centuries. The Michipicoten Fort was located across the river from the cemetery.

The oldest tombstone located in the cemetery is that of Louisa Mackenzie, who died in 1833. Louisa was the wife of Angus Bethune, the chief factor of the Fort Michipicoten Hudson’s Bay Company Post. Louisa’s father was a partner in creating the North West Company, rival of the HBC. She was a cousin to Alexander Mackenzie, the famous explorer who was the first European to cross North America in 1793. Alexander also stayed at the Michipicoten Fort during his journey! And Louisa is the great-grandmother of Dr. Norman Bethune, who discovered the cure for tuberculosis in the early 1900s.

Louisa's headstone was vandalized back in the 1990s but thanks to the efforts of the township of Michipicoten, all the pieces were recovered and her gravestone restored. (Photo credit: Rob Stimpson)

How to reach the cemetery: there's a small pullover on the south side of Harbour Road in Michipicoten. The trail is a two-minute walk through the woods. The cemetery is on the north bank of the Michipicoten River.

Recommended Routes: Grand Algoma, Ride Lake Superior

Plan Your Stay on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Motels, cottages and camping are your choices when you plan a stay on Lake Superior and in Wawa. There are also plenty of beaches, hiking trails, scenic lookouts to enjoy, restaurants and interesting shops.

Discover this Region
Sault-Ste Marie is a 7 hour drive from Toronto

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