Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
July 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Fort William


[This article was written in the 1930's and was published in 1948. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]

Fort William , a city in the Thunder Bay district of Ontario, on lake Superior, at the mouth of the Kaministikwia river, and on the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways, 426 miles east of Winnipeg. It was originally for many years a fur-trading post. Dulhut built a post here in 1678, and this was succeeded by a second French fort in 1717, which was known as Fort Kaministikwia. La Vérendrye wintered here in 1731. During the Seven Years' War, this post was abandoned; and the English traders, after the conquest, used Grand Portage as their headquarters on lake Superior. After 1796, however, when it was found that Grand Portage was on American territory, Roderick McKenzie rediscovered in 1798 the old French route to the West, beginning at Fort Kaministikwia; and in 1801 the North West Company rebuilt the old French fort, and shortly afterwards abandoned Grand Portage. In 1805 the name was changed to Fort William, in honour of William McGillivray, the principal director of the North West Company. Here the partners of the Company from 1802 to 1821 held their annual meetings; and at the height of the season the post was a teeming village of over 3,000 people. It was surrounded by palisades 15 feet high, with bastions; and it contained a council house, a dining hall, residences, storehouses, workshops, a forge, and numerous other buildings. The fort was captured by Lord Selkirk in 1816; and in 1821 it passed into the hands of the Hudson's Bay Company, on the union of this Company with the North West Company. After the union, its importance declined, since the furs were then shipped to England by way of Hudson bay.


It was not until the coming of the railway that its modern development began. With the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 and the opening of the North West, it became an entrepôt for the western grain trade. Its harbour, which is the head of Canadian lake navigation on the Great lakes, has developed until it now consists of 26 miles of river frontage, with wharves, freight sheds, and 40 grain elevators. Its combined elevator capacity is 93,500,000 bushels, which makes it the largest grain port in the world. Its railway terminals contain over 200 miles of track. Besides being a railway and shipping centre, it has numerous industries, driven by power obtained from Kakabeka falls and from Cameron falls and Alexander Landing, on the Nipigon river. Its chief industries are flour mills, foundries, saw and planing mills, a fishnet factory, brickyards,. and several large pulp and paper mills. It is also the centre of a territory rich in minerals. It has municipally-owned electric light, telephone system, and waterworks, its water, which is drawn by gravity from a mountain-locked lake 6 miles distant, being reputed to be the purest water in Canada. An electric railway connects it with Port Arthur, on the other side of the mouth of the Kaministikwia river. There are in Fort William a large collegiate institute, a public library, two hospitals, and a daily newspaper (Times Journal).

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., p. 379. 


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College