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Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Trapper's Shack is a classic, two-storey, dove-tailed log house built prior to 1909 along the south bank of the Peace River at Fort Vermilion. Located on one lot, central to the business corridor and flanked on two sides by modern buildings, it typifies the late 1800s and early 1900s log houses once prevalent in the community. Its use as a diner mirrors bygone days, when trappers, farmers, shoppers and lodgers gathered in its large front room. The Fort's access road parallels the Peace River, separating the house and lot from this historic waterway which fronts the property. Municipal designation applies to the house and lot that surrounds it.
The Trapper's Shack is significant to Fort Vermilion and Mackenzie County for its historical, social, cultural and aesthetic values.
Located on its original river lot and relatively unaltered in presentation, the Trapper's Shack is one of the region's earlier and more prominent hand hewn log houses. It is the largest and only two-storey log dwelling on its original site in Fort Vermilion. Expertly crafted, the house has weathered the ages well, serving as family residences and evolving into a social and cultural gathering place for eating, entertainment, visiting and cutting the odd business deal. Of the few remaining buildings of its era, the Trapper's Shack maintains an identity that links past to future generations. It represents the enterprising nature of successive owners, who have shown how to effectively use and re-use a well-built building.
The Trapper's Shack is the largest of three log houses built along the riverfront by and for Johnny Bourassa. Before turning to farming, Johnny saw service as an interpreter with the Hudson's Bay Company and in developments at the Catholic Mission. Prior to the introduction of steam engines to power sawmills, the majority of houses and farm buildings were hand hewn from local timber and assembled by builders working together. Co-builders of the Trapper's Shack were Pierre Lizotte, Benjamin Charles and "Old Man" (William) Flett, men whose names pepper the pages of the Fort's turn of the twentieth century history. The Trapper's Shack provides a direct historic link through its owners and builders to the early fur trade period on the Peace River and to the freemen and agricultural settlement which followed. Of its many functions, perhaps the most remembered is the house's use as a restaurant and boarding house. As the "Homesteaders Inn", the "Riverside Cafe and Cabins" and later the "Trapper's Shack", the property grew to greater social and cultural significance. For a time it was the only commercial place to eat in town. Here tales were told, deals made and news transmitted by "moccasin telegraph". Trappers, farmers and shoppers gathered in the same large room that hosts customers today. Upstairs lodging was provided for expectant mothers, outpatients and weary travelers, tying the building to changes in northern health care and economic development. The house contributes to the Fort's sense of identity as it typifies many other dwellings that have been destroyed by fire or developers. The culture of log building construction in and around Fort Vermilion is preserved in this edifice.
With its rustic style, river lot location and the vista it provides of the Peace River, this landmark log house is rich in aesthetic value, streetscape and environmental context. Inside or out, it evokes a visual sense of interest and an appreciation for the builders. The remarkable construction expertise and physical endurance required to hand hew, dove-tail and position the massive squared logs is evident.
Sources: Mackenzie County Heritage File
Key elements that define the heritage character of the site include:
- placing of the house on a river lot with its front facade towards the Peace River and the road that separates the lot from riverbank.
Key elements that define the heritage character of the house exterior include:
- the simple two storey rectangular form, with a long facade, high gable roof, wood shingles, horizontal hand hewn square logs with dove-tailed corners;
- a central single main entrance door with two clear 4 pane windows on each side;
- log inserts on the east end of the north facade, where a door once accessed the interior stairs to the second storey;
- the second storey exterior door with emergency exit stairs on the west end;
- a small attic window in the west gable and other windows as photographed;
- a rear exit door on the south that leads to a newly constructed lean-to;
- a wooden sidewalk paralleling the house front and a wooden sign over the front door that reads "Trappers Shack".
The key elements that define the heritage character of the house interior include:
- a single large room with kitchen on the main floor;
- plank flooring on the main and second floors;
- the main floor ceiling beams are exposed hand hewn logs.
Key elements that show the value of the house as a landmark that continues to define the business district and history of Fort Vermilion include:
- location in the village core and with frontage towards the Peace River;
- prominent visibility for eastbound travelers along the river road.
Local Governments (AB)
Historical Resources Act
Municipal Historic Resource
Theme - Category and Type
- Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
- Architecture and Design
- Peopling the Land
Function - Category and Type
- Single Dwelling
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
Mackenzie County, Fort Vermilion, Alberta and Fort Vermilion Tourism Centre
Cross-Reference to Collection