Before there were settlers, before there were towns, there was just a lake, open prairie and a trading post. It was Last Mountain House, a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post that was built in 1869 to serve as a branch of Fort Qu’Appelle, which was 75 km away.
In an effort to compete with the increasing number of independent traders in the area, and because the buffalo had moved south from Touchwood Hills, the Hudson’s Bay Company built the fort. The first season for the fort was extremely productive, with 1,000 buffalo robes coming in. For a time, it looked like the fort would become a very important trading post for the entire area.
Located on a high plateau above Last Mountain Lake, everything the fort needed was within the area. There was wood in the ravines for firewood and lumber, whitefish and water fowl for fresh food and natural springs for drinking water.
Within the outpost there was a clerk, post master, servants and their families. Men would use the fort as a base for hunting and trading dried meat, pemmican and grease and the fort served a major role in supplying provisions for the northern posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The clerk, 21-year-old Isaac Cowie, would go on to become a legendary pioneer in the west. After serving at several posts, he would become the first secretary of the Edmonton Board of Trade in 1891 and in 1896, he would become an alderman for Edmonton Town Council.
Unfortunately, the buffalo continued moving south and the second year saw a huge decrease in the amount of buffalo robes produced, as well as a serious shortage of pemmican.
To make matters worse, sometime after the second season a fire erupted at the fort, destroying it completely. Rather than rebuild, the Hudson’s Bay Company decided to cut its losses completely with the fort and not rebuild.
As a result, the fort that was meant to compete in the area only lasted from 1869 to 1871, before fading away completely. The last documented reference to the fort was in 1872-73 and it is unlikely the fort survived past 1873.
Nonetheless, that was the start of settlers coming to the area. Many consider the fort’s demise to be the end of the fur trade in southern Saskatchewan and the start of settlement in the west, heralding a whole new area for the region.
Information courtesy of Wikipedia.com, HistoricPlaces.ca and SaskParks.net
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