In the very early days of the fur trade, Europeans traded manufactured goods and supplies with Indian middlemen who would collect furs from tribes in the interior and bring them to trading sites. As the demand for furs and the possibility of profits grew, the fur trading companies established outposts where they could trade directly with the Indians. These fur trading posts became an important fixture in the interior from the late 1700’s until the end of the fur trade era in 1850. Today the fur trading posts are still important to the Eskimos and others of the far north.
The Hudson Bay Company
In 1670 the Hudson Bay Company was granted exclusive trading rights in the watershed of the Hudson Bay. Initially, Indians brought furs to posts located along the Bay. However, competition from the North West Company forced them to extend fur trading posts into the interior.
The North West Company
The North West Company was formed by independent “master peddlers” in 1784. They started direct trading with the Indians in the North Country. They established fur trading posts throughout the interior regions, stretching eventually to the Pacific Ocean. These posts provided shelter for the traders and supplies to those working at even more remote locations.
In 1798, XY Company was formed by disgruntled Norwesters to compete directly against the North West Company. They located small posts adjacent to North West Company posts including Grand Portage. The XY Company merged with the North West Company in 1804.
The American Fur Company was formed in 1808 by John Jacob Astor. The firm established its own posts and grew to dominate the US side of the industry until its collapse in 1850.
It took five years to complete the construction of the North West Company Fur Post to where it is today. All of the logs used in construction were cut on site or in a special run at the sawmill. This avoided circular saw marks which would distract from the authentic appearance of the buildings. The ironwork for the post was all hand forged or cut. The only modifications made were that the doorways were made taller and wider to accommodate wheelchairs Buildings were made longer to accommodate large groups.
- The blacksmith shop: A copy of a 1700’s shop from an archaeological dig in northern Wisconsin
- Clerk’s quarters and company store:
Hewed log structure with two fireplaces and sleeping quarters plus fur trade period merchandise reproductions for sale or trade
- Bourgeois’ quarters: A log structure with fireplace and even a window (only one on post as glass was very expensive) where the “boss” of the post lived and worked.
- Baking oven: Functional clay oven based on the style of the oven found at a fur post of this era.
- Canoe building shed: Building with thatched roof where we teach the art of building a birch bark canoe.
- Gil Quaal Nature Trail: A mile long trail with plants labeled in French, English, and Ojibwe telling how the plants were used for medicine, food, shelter, and other survival purposes during the fur trade period.
- Blackpowder range: Large area where we can showcase the development of the blackpowder weapon and demonstrate the skills of marksmanship and firearms safety.
- Stockade, bastions, fur press, and the Ersatz River: Areas created to help complete the entirety of the White Oak Fur Post
- Ojibwe village: Nestled in the woods below the fur post and designed to show the closeness the Europeans and Native Americans experienced during the fur trading era.
The original site of the 1794 trading post on the Mississippi River is about 3 miles away from the current site. It has been preserved as a National Historic Site, but was considered too small to accommodate large groups of people. After 3 years of environmental impact studies, obtaining permits, and inspections, we created our own “river”. It is called ” Ersatz”, a term that means bogus. Now the voyageurs can arrive by canoe, making a grand entrance.