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York Factory, year 1853

York Factory was a factory (trading post) centred settlement located on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay in northeastern Manitoba, Canada, at the mouth of the Hayes River, approximately 100 kilometres (62 mi) south-southeast of Churchill. Though there is currently no permanent population in York Factory, the settlement was the longtime headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company in North America, serving as the company headquarters until 1957.

When it was shut down, the indigenous community that had been central to the fur trade operations of the post was relocated by the government. The former company complex is now owned by the Canadian government and operated by Parks Canada as the York Factory National Historic Site of Canada. Aside from a summer residence for Parks Canada staff and nearby seasonal hunting camps there is currently no one living at York Factory. The wooden structure at the park site dates from 1831 and is the oldest and largest wooden structure in Canada built on permafrost.

History

Rupert's Land, showing location of York Factory

During the 17th through late 19th century, the depot at York Factory and its predecessors were the central base of operations for company's control of the fur trade and other business dealings with the First Nations throughout Rupert's Land, the vast territory comprising the entire watershed of Hudson Bay that now forms much of Canada.

The first company headquarters on the bay, Fort Nelson, was established at the mouth of the nearby Nelson River in 1682. The establishment of the fort provoked a quick response from France, which sent a naval force to Hudson Bay to capture and destroy the fort in 1684. The company built a second fort on the Hayes river, naming it after the Duke of York. In 1697, after the Battle of Hudson's Bay, the largest Arctic naval battle in North American history, the French captured the fort and renamed it Fort Bourbon. The French force suffered greatly in the naval battle with three English warships and the depleted force captured the fort. In a ruse they laid siege to the fort by giving the appearance of being a much stronger force. Fort Nelson was returned to the British in 1713 as part of the Treaty of Utrecht. After 1713, the headquarters was relocated to the current site on the mouth of the Hayes River.

Between 1788 and 1795 the company constructed an octagonal star fort of stone and brick on the site. The choice of material was poor, however, as the stone and brick could not stand up to heaving permafrost, and in 1831 the stone fort was razed. The three-story centre section of the current compound was completed that same year, with the two-story wings finished within the two years that followed.

Aerial view of York Factory, ca. 1925

During its first century, the depot operated by drawing First Nations traders to the post, rather than sending its own traders out into the field. Its position at the mouth of the Nelson allowed access by canoe from the watersheds of the Saskatchewan and Red rivers.

In the late 18th century, the centralized nature of the Hudson's Bay Company's operation from the depot began to become a disadvantage against the more nimble voyageurs of the North West Company. They operated by travelling among the First Nations on the vast water network of lakes and rivers. In response the company began sending out its own traders from the depot and eventually established inland posts, first along the Saskatchewan River, and then stretching as far as the Oregon Country. Twice annually from 1821 to 1846 brigades known as the York Factory Express travelled overland to Fort Vancouver, headquarters for the HBC's Columbia Department. They brought supplies and trade goods and returned with furs destined for London.

The depot remained in company hands after the acquisition of Rupert's Land by the Dominion of Canada in 1870. The historic site is currently staffed by Parks Canada from June 1 to mid-September. Archaeological excavations of the 18th century "octagon" have been conducted since 1991.

York Factory's residents were relocated to York Landing Cree Nation.

See also

External links

Coordinates: 57°00′9.8″N 92°18′17.3″W / 57.002722°N 92.304806°W / 57.002722; -92.304806

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