In the late 1720’s peace between England and France was on edge, and in 1730 the Hudson Bay Company initiated construction on Fort Prince of Wales at the mouth of the Churchill River (650 meters across at that point) at Eskimo Point. The strategic location – the peninsula at the mouth of the Churchill River and Button Bay to the west – affords an ideal location for defense and spotting ships on the horizon. The availability of raw material, quartzite and limestone for building, and a natural harbor just upriver at Sloops Cove added to the prime location. Severe weather conditions slowed construction considerably to say the least.
Twenty-four tradesmen and laborers were sent from England in 1731 and the first large, shaped stone was laid on June 3, 1732. It was estimated that construction would take six or seven years to complete using four team of oxen and 84 men. Forty years later in 1771, the fort was completed. In 1782 Jean Francois de la Perouse and his three French warships sailed into Hudson Bay and captured the fort and the 39 non – military men inside without a single shot fired from either side. The men “maintaining” the fort were untrained in cannon operation. The forged steel cannons needed six to eight men to fire them efficiently and accurately.
Fort Governor at the time, Samuel Hearne, realized the mismatch in military strength and surrendered peacefully. In 1783, Fort Prince of Wales was returned to the Hudson Bay Company in a partially destroyed state. With the decline of the fur trade the importance of the fort waned and a downsized post was reestablished farther inland on the Churchill River.
Summer in Churchill is the optimal time to get a walking tour of Fort Prince of Wales. Visit nathab.com for travel options to Churchill!