If you venture to Churchill in the summertime with Natural Habitat Adventures there’s a good chance you’ll travel cross-river and tour Fort Prince of Wales with a guided interpretation from a Parcs Canada ranger. An intriguing and somewhat comical history endures.
In 1717, just a few years after the Treaty of Utrecht returned all Hudson Bay posts to England, James Knight from the Hudson Bay Company built the ” Churchill River Post” and it was renamed “Prince of Wales” two years later. The initial trading post/fort was constructed to pretty much take advantage geographically of the more northern location and general accessibility to multiple regional fur traders and native trappers.
With the ongoing feud and battle to control the fur industry between the french and English, the need for a stronghold of greater security seemed like a good idea.
In 1731 construction of the current day Fort Prince of Wales began out on Eskimo Point at the mouth of the Churchill River. A mere 40 years later the four-meter-thick stone walls were completed and the 40 cannon mounts were in place. Nearly unbearable winter living conditions made the construction process less than expeditious. With the sparseness of trees in the area, gathering firewood for heat also was a laborious task. If we could hear the stories from those days.
The star fort design, originally conceptualized in the mid-15th century in Italy worked quite well in covering all angles of attack with cannons. Walls were constructed low and thick to withstand cannon fire. A deep ditch surrounding the fort was to compensate for the lower walls.
The grand irony of the entire project culminated in 1782 when three French warships commanded by general La Perouse captured the fort without a single shot being fired. During the whole construction process, the minor details of training the stationed men how to fire a cannon seemed to slip through the cracks. Again, with the severe weather conditions, one can only imagine how basic survival during construction trumped all other endeavors.
In 1934 the process of reconstructing the partially demolished and downtrodden fort began. That process has restored the fort to a most presentable condition. In recent years, an intense archeological effort has produced incredible artifacts used to paint a more vivid picture of life in the 18th century.