…In the right place, at the right time.
Fort Carlton sits approximately 27 kilometres west of Duck Lake, near the North Saskatchewan River on Treaty 6 Lands. Constructed in 1810 as a new trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company, Fort Carlton was in service for 75 years trading primarily buffalo products, and other furs. Geographically, it sits on the North Saskatchewan River and Carlton trail making it a natural trading hub for York Boats, Red River carts and dog sleds. The Forts location served well as a warehousing post for other Forts further inland. (1). Many different groups of people regularly visited the Fort. The Fort closed in 1885, after workers fled the area due to local resistance from Métis and First Nations at Duck Lake (2). The original fort completely burned in 1885 and was abandoned. The Fort is mostly rebuilt to original specifications and open in summer months to tourists.
Today, Fort Carlton is a quiet, but a valuable tourist attraction and part of Métis History. Five structures stand inside the Fort’s tall palisades. Four of the buildings are older reconstructions that were rebuilt in 1967 to commemorate Canadian Centenary (3). These structures include a general store, fur storage, and trading post. The Fort is built exclusively in Hudson Bay frame style. It is a grooved-post construction that originates from Denmark during the Viking Age. Its original name is called bulhuse (bole houses). The method employs grooves in the posts (side or ground) to fit boards either horizontally (in the side upright posts) or vertically (in the ground post). At this time, large quantities of easily-split oak wood were available. (4) This technology migrated from Denmark to southern Europe and eventually into New France where the Hudson Bay Company quickly adopted and modified it to work with locally available materials and tools. White spruce is the tree of choice to construct the frames in Saskatchewan. It grows in abundance near Fort Carlton and to a significant size. The timbers were fallen by axe and hand-hewn to be square on four sides with a broad axe. The building’s roofs are framed with dimensional lumber, decked and covered with wooden shakes. Floors are of tongue and groove wood planks, as are interior wall partitions. In one structure, rawhide window coverings illuminate a dim interior. Natural fibers and capillaries in the animal’s skin create a beautiful translucent pattern. This detail was used in many Forts, as the glass was expensive, brittle and hard to transport by cart pre-railroad days. In contrast, rawhide allows light to pass through, is incredibly durable and could be replaced very easily at little cost.
Two recently reconstructed buildings at Fort Carlton, constructed by Thomas Smith of Sunbeam Valley Homes, are of exceptional interest. The structures are a hybrid between old and new technologies while maintaining a traditional formal typology. They are constructed of Hudson Bay Frame construction, however, it uses concealed metal knife plates and connectors to satisfy current building codes. Each connection bolt is covered with a wooden dowel to simulate traditional doweling connection methods. The attic is of contemporary wood frame construction with OSB (Orientated Strand Board) sheathing. The spruce timbers appear to be sawn with modern equipment but were finished by hand hewing, a traditional technique. This is incredibly labor intensive but adds a sense of authenticity and texture to the project. The buildings electric systems are concealed behind hinging wooden doors. The attention to detail in the project creates an authentic feel to the buildings. It is nearly impossible to notice that they are newly constructed buildings as they fit seamlessly into the fabric of Fort Carlton. These structures are an example of a contemporary project that respects tradition while employing the best of modern technologies. This is something that is inherent in Métis culture. Métis people are quick to adapt to new environments while appropriating the best technologies that respond to local context.
More information on Fort Carlton is found here including hours and directions.
(2)Information on interpretive display at Fort Carlton.
(4) Ritchie, Thomas.1971. Plankwall framing: A modern wall construction with an ancient history. National Research Council of Canada, Division of Building Research.
Additional Photographs of the Fort Below: