I love history and as much as I am in Churchill, Manitoba to see beluga whales and polar bears during my summer visit, I am anxious to see Prince of Wales Fort for a better understanding of the area’s European history.
I am with Frontiers North Adventures. My group and I board a boat and motor across Churchill River. Thousands of beluga whales are in the river this summer day and after our fort tour we will spend time observing them.
Once on the far shore, we are greeted by a young woman who escorts us the half mile to the fort. She explains that the fort was built between 1731 and 1771 by the Hudson’s Bay Company during times of English and French conflict. Now a National Historic Site, the fort stands as a reminder of European presence in Canada during the 18th century and as a testament to the men who built it and the fur trade that founded Canada.
In addition to building the fort, the men had to hunt food, cut wood, haul water and continue to trade for fur. Furs were prepared for shipping to England, accounts kept, and trade goods stored for the next trade season.
At the fort, we are greeted by a second woman who explains the inside of the fort. Built in the popular ‘star’ shape with four protruding bastions, she says 40 cannon were mounted along the parapet to protect every approach to the fort.
She explains that in the 1920s, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, recognized the Fort as being of national significance. The Parks Branch of the Department of the Interior (now Parks Canada) took responsibility for its preservation, and, when a large workforce became available with the completion of the railroad into Churchill, the men and the heavy equipment began reconstruction of the fort in the 1930s.
We are now free to explore the stone ramparts, living quarters, the remains of the powder magazine and look out over the bay. The Fort stands as an important memorial of the French-English rivalry for control of Hudson Bay and its resources.
Soon we return to our boat. The whales are waiting for us. Churchill is a remarkable destination for its natural beauty, its animals and its significant Canadian history.