FORT WHOOP-UP ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE
Fort Hamilton #2
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Fort Whoop-Up Archaeological Site is represented by the remains of an early historic 'whisky fort', located six kilometres southwest of Lethbridge on a low north facing terrace of the Oldman River, 2.4 kilometres west of its confluence with the St. Mary River. Situated on approximately two hectares of land, the site consists of several low mounds, shallow depressions, and a stone-lined well, as well as buried palisade remains, horizontal logs of buildings, and artifact deposits.
The heritage value of the Fort Whoop-Up Archaeological Site lies in its status as the earliest, largest and one of best known American whisky trading posts in southern Alberta.
The location was originally known as Fort Hamilton, and was established in 1869 by Montana traders John J. Healy and Alfred B. Hamilton. The fort was thought to be reasonably defensible, but relatively accessible by horse and wagon, and was established to support the trade of liquor for bison robes from the local Aboriginal people, after such trade was banned in the United States. Within its first year, the poorly fortified structure burned down and was soon replaced by a larger structure constructed by William Gladstone, a former Hudson's Bay Company employee and boat builder. The construction took two years and cost $25,000, but resulted in one of the strongest, most well fortified structures on the plains. Over 6,000 hand-hewn cottonwoods comprised the heavily fortified palisade walls of squared 12 foot logs fitted with 'loopholes' for rifle-fire. The fort also boasted two bastions armed with cannon, ramparts, and heavy gates.
In 1873, to combat the increasing violence that accompanied the liquor trade, the fledgling Canadian government passed a Bill that sought to bring order to the frontier, encourage settlement, and to establish Canadian authority through the creation of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP). One of the NWMP's first goals was to control the trade at Fort Whoop-Up, but when they arrived in 1874 they found that it had been essentially abandoned. After unsuccessfully trying to buy it, the NWMP rented accommodations at the fort until 1888, when fire destroyed a large portion of the structure. By the early 1900s, the fort had become uninhabitable, with many of the early buildings removed or destroyed by flood or human salvage. In 1946, a commemorative cairn and plaque were placed at the fort, and in 1967 a replica was built in Indian Battle Park, nine kilometres to the northwest of the original location.
Archaeological examination of the site was initiated in 1957 and culminated in scientific excavations in 1983 and 1991. In addition to the identification and recording of depressions, mounds and stone piles that represented the fort, cultural materials associated with food preparation, storage, and domestic activities during the period 1870 to 1900 were recovered and analysed.
Sources: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 567). Fooks, Georgia Green. 1983. Fort Whoop-Up: Alberta's First and Most Notorious Whisky Fort (Occasional Paper No. 11). (Whoop-Up Country Chapter, Historical Society of Alberta, Lethbridge, Alberta).
The character-defining elements reflecting the historic and scientific values of the Fort Whoop-Up Archaeological Site include such features as:
- its historically significant location, near the confluence of the Oldman and St. Mary Rivers, in an area considered to be one of the traditional wintering camps of the Blackfoot people;
- in-situ archaeological surface and subsurface evidence of human occupation in the area and the potential of this material to yield information about the early whiskey trade in Alberta and the construction and operation of early 'whisky trade' posts;
- the potential of the available material culture obtained in archaeological excavations to yield information on the early whiskey trade in Alberta and the construction and operation of early 'whisky trade' posts;
- archival and photographic evidence which substantiates its unusually sturdy and defensive construction techniques and which may provide information about the construction and operation of early 'whisky trade' posts, as well as information about the material culture associated with such commerce.
Province of Alberta
Historical Resources Act
Provincial Historic Resource
Theme - Category and Type
- Peopling the Land
- Developing Economies
- Trade and Commerce
- Governing Canada
- Security and Law
Function - Category and Type
- Commerce / Commercial Services
- Trading Post
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 567)
Cross-Reference to Collection