Cumberland House Provincial Park
Archaeological Site FlMn-5
Links and documents
1793/01/01 to 1793/12/31
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
Cumberland House Provincial Park consists of a 5.2 hectare parcel of land in the Northern Village of Cumberland House. The property features a stone building constructed ca. 1886 as the powder magazine for a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, and may also contain archaeological remains of the post. The park also displays salvaged hardware from the Hudson’s Bay Company steamship Northcote.
The heritage value of Cumberland House Provincial Park resides in its association with the Hudson’s Bay Company’s first inland fur-trading post and Saskatchewan’s oldest permanent settlement. By the late eighteenth century, competition from Montreal-based “pedlars” forced the Hudson’s Bay Company to abandon its century-old practice of trading exclusively at its forts on Hudson Bay. In 1774, Samuel Hearne built the Company’s first inland post on the south shore of Cumberland Lake in the Saskatchewan River delta, a location chosen for its access to important canoe routes and First Nations trading partners. In 1793, the post was moved about 2 km west to a site on and adjacent to the present-day Provincial Park property, where it conducted business until 1965.
Strategically located, Cumberland House became a principal administration and distribution centre as the Hudson’s Bay Company expanded its network of inland posts throughout the remainder of the eighteenth century and early decades of the nineteenth century. Cumberland House began to decline in importance following the Company’s 1821 union with the North West Company, when Norway House, at the north end of Lake Winnipeg, became inland headquarters. Nevertheless, Cumberland House continued to serve local First Nations and Métis people, forming the nucleus of what would become the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the province.
Heritage value also resides in the powder house, one the few surviving examples of a nineteenth-century Hudson’s Bay Company facility built expressly for the storage of explosives. The square building plan and pyramidal roof are seen in other powder magazines of the era. The two-foot-thick stone walls and heavy plank door were meant to contain the force of explosions. Copper nails and copper and lead cladding on exposed wood surfaces were intended to minimize the danger of sparks and consequent fire or explosion. The floor, constructed of two-inch by eight-inch wood planks on wood sleepers, kept the explosives off the damp ground. As an additional safety precaution, the powder house was purposely located some distance from the other post buildings.
There is also heritage value in the park’s association with steamship transportation on the Saskatchewan River. In 1874, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Northcote became the first steam-powered sternwheeler on the Saskatchewan. Cumberland House once again became an important distribution centre as the Northcote and her sister ships carried freight and passengers from Grand Rapids at the north end of Lake Winnipeg, west as far as Edmonton and Medicine Hat. However, short seasons, unpredictable water levels and increasing competition from expanding railways meant that the era of the big sternwheelers was short-lived. By 1900, all of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s large steamships had either sunk or been intentionally run aground. The Northcote was beached at Cumberland House in 1886. Throughout the early 1900s, Cumberland House served as a port-of-call for smaller steamships that plied the river between the Pas and Prince Albert, and for ships and barges carrying copper ore from mines at Flin Flon. When the railway reached Flin Flon in 1925, Cumberland House’s 150 year tenure as a vital transportation hub and distribution centre came to an end.
Further heritage value exists in the Northcote’s association with the 1885 Resistance, when it transported troops and supplies in support of General Frederick Middleton’s assault on Batoche. At Batoche, the ship came under fire and was temporarily disabled when the Métis lowered the ferry cable spanning river, shearing the Northcote’s smoke stacks. After the battle, the ship helped evacuate casualties to Saskatoon. Among the passengers was Louis Riel, in custody and being taken to Saskatoon enroute to trial in Regina.
Province of Saskatchewan, The Parks Act, May 26, 1986.
The heritage value of Cumberland House Provincial Park resides in the following character-defining elements:
-any archaeological remains that may be present that reveal information regarding the Hudson’s Bay Company’s use of the site, including artifacts; structural features such as cellars or buried foundations; and the spatial relationships and environmental context of the remains;
-elements related to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s procedures for storing gunpowder, including the powder house in its original location, its square plan, pyramidal roof, and design features that were incorporated for the safe storage of explosives, such as its thick, plastered-stone walls, plank-flooring and copper nails, and the recent steel-sheathing on the roof, plank door and door-frame, which emulates the building’s original metal cladding;
-elements that speak to the park’s association with Saskatchewan’s oldest continuously occupied settlement, including its location within the corporate limits of the Northern Village of Cumberland House;
-elements that reflect the park’s association with steamship transportation, such as the displayed boilers, signalling cannon and other hardware from the steamship Northcote.
Government of Saskatchewan
Parks Act, s. 4
1874/01/01 to 1925/12/31
1793/01/01 to 1965/12/31
Theme - Category and Type
- Developing Economies
- Trade and Commerce
Function - Category and Type
- Commerce / Commercial Services
- Trading Post
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
Heritage Conservation Branch,
Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport,
3211 Albert Street,
Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 5W6
Cross-Reference to Collection