Description du lieu patrimonial
The Fort White Earth Archaeological Site consists of a set of paired North West Company and Hudson's Bay Company trading and provision posts that were in operation between 1810 and 1813. They were established within a single pallisaded structure located west of the confluence of the North Saskatchewan River and White Earth Creek, near Pakan. The designated area is situated on approximately two hectares of land on the floodplain of the North Saskatchewan River. In 1962, a provincial cairn and plaque were erected at the site to commemorate the two rival forts. Artifacts excavated from this site are stored in the collections of the Royal Alberta Museum.
The heritage value of Fort White Earth lies in its representation of the competing forts des prairies established by the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company within a single pallisaded enclosure, erected for the purposes of mutual protection. This distinctive pattern represents a significant development in the history of the fur trade in western Canada.
In the winter of 1809-1810, James Hughes and Alexander Henry of the North West Company concluded that it was economically expedient to consolidate the upper forts des prairies at Fort Augustus II and Fort Vermilion and build a single post at "Terre Blanche" (White Earth), near the confluence of the North Saskatchewan River and White Earth Creek, approximately half way between the two previous forts. Henry Hallett and James Bird of the Hudson's Bay Company soon followed them to the location and constructed a fort of their own, abandoning their forts at Fort Vermilion and Fort Edmonton II. Like Fort Vermilion, however, the two new forts at White Earth were contained within a common palisade.
The configuration and construction of post facilities is notable. In written records, the two forts together have been variously referred to as Terre Blanche, Lower Terre Blanche, Terre Blanche House, White Earth House, White Mud Brook, Lower White Earth or Mud Fort. Some of these names are related to the fact that white mud from the river was used to coat the walls of the fort in lieu of whitewash, which was a common practice throughout the northwest. The North West Company fort, specifically described in the journals of Alexander Henry, contained an "Indian Hall" and storehouse of two storeys (70 x 20 feet), a blacksmith's shop, the two-storey Master's house, houses for the men and outbuildings. The Hudson's Bay Company portion of the fort, which was separated from the North West Company portion by a fence across the enclosure, probably had similar types of structures. Bastions lay at the southwest and northeast corners of the palisade.
Fort White Earth is associated with important individuals and events in the fur trade, which eventually led to the establishment of Edmonton as the focal point of trade in the Saskatchewan River basin. Until its abandonment, Fort White Earth was the only fort on the upper Saskatchewan. When Alexander Henry left Fort White Earth after the 1812-1813 season, the companies moved back upriver to the former site of Fort Augustus II (North West Company) and Fort Edmonton II (Hudson's Bay Company).
Archaeological excavation occurred between 1966 and 1969 and focused on the North West Company portion of the paired fort. These excavations resulted in collection of clay chinking, burned wood, china, metal fragments, glass, beads and bones in a cultivated area at the site.
Sources: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 714); Early History of the Greater Northwest. The Manuscript Journals of Alexander Henry, Fur Trader of the Northwest Company, and of David Thompson, Official Geographer and Explorer of the same Company, 1799-1814., Elliot Coues, ed., 3 vols. New York, II, pp. 584-746, passim.; Notebooks and files from the excavation including plans, maps and report, see Historic Sites Service library, manuscript # 85 Nic; 1977, Hurlburt, Isobel, Faunal remains from Fort White Earch, NWCp. (19810-1813), Provincial Museum of Alberta Human History Occasional Paper No. 1, pp. 107.; 1979, Forsman, Michael R.A. and Gallo, Joseph G., Approaches to Fur Trade Archaeology, Archaeology in Alberta 1978, Archaeological Survey of Alberta Occasional Paper No. 14, compiled by J. M. Hillerud, p 159-185.; 1984, Pyszczyk, Heinz, Site Occupation Length as a Factor in Artifact Assemblage Variability and Frequency, Archaeology in Alberta 1983, Archaeological Survey of Alberta Occasional Paper No. 23, compiled by David Burley, pp 60-76.; 2004, Berry, Susan and Jack Brink, Aboriginal Cultures in Alberta.
The character-defining elements of the Fort White Earth Archaeological Site include:
- archaeological structural remains present at the site which consist of a stockade, bastions, median walls, gates, four structures, including the trading post (with chimney and walkway), and several unidentifiable features associated with the stockade;
- the historic records available for the site, which reflect an association with important fur trade personalities and journalists such as Alexander Henry, who provided an eyewitness account of the activities at the site and detailed descriptions of the construction of the North West Company portion of the site;
- the information potential of the in-place archaeological materials, which may permit further interpretation of the daily lives of the early 19th century fur traders, including subsistence and economic practices, as well as comparative study of practices between the two fur trade companies;
- existing archaeological collections and information, which provide further information activities that took place at the site, as well as public interpretation potential.