In the summer of 2010 a Manitoba Hydro crew came across two piles of rocks that had been exposed by a forest fire. The crew found the rocks to be curious, and after investigation by Manitoba government archaeologists, it’s believed that they had discovered David Thompson’s missing trading post.
The fur-trade post begun in October 1792, where Thompson struggled, but from there he forged a map-making career that made him one of Canada’s great historic figures.
The two rock piles were presumed to be the remains of twos chimneys from two log cabins that Thompson and his five-man crew would have built. One would have been the men’s sleeping quarters, and the other a warehouse for furs and other goods. The site is Sipiwesk Lake on the Nelson River.
“It was lost and people have been trying to find it for over a hundred years,” said provincial archaeologist Perry Blomquist in a March 21, 2011 article in the Winnipeg Free Press, “we know where the other (Thompson trading posts) are, but this was his very first one.”
Blomquist led a team that included his colleague Gordon Hill, local Cross Lake First Nation students, a guide and an elder. Within a day and a half of discovering the site, the crew uncovered 1,400 artifacts.
The artifacts included brass wire, pipe fragments, a knife blade, an axe head, beads, broken glass from kerosene lamp flutes and a tinderbox that would have once included a flint, striker and shavings for starting a fire.
The find held special significance for Blomquist, as he is full-status Cree and one of only a handful of aboriginal archaeologists in Canada.
“It’s really cool,” said Blomquist, “it’s working to protect the aboriginal culture of my own heritage.”
Excavation at the site is ongoing and Blomquist and his team are still uncovering artifacts.
Manitoba Museum archeology curator Kevin Brownlee has not taken in any artifacts since the original 1,400 were discovered, but says that by month’s end they should have a new haul to look at.
“As of right now we have nothing new since the first excavation, but it sounds like he’s (Blomquist) getting more and doing a fairly extensive excavation this summer,” said Brownlee.
Brownlee has also heard through the grapevine that Blomquist and his crew discovered another fur trade post about a month ago thanks to low water levels on Sipiwesk Lake.
The discovery of another post doesn’t surprise Brownlee who used to work for the Province, doing surveys near Nelson House.
“When you get low water up there, man can you find a lot of stuff,” said Brownlee, who says it’s believed that the new site is not one of David Thompson’s, “at this point they don’t really know whether it belonged to Hudson Bay Company or North West Company; it could be a competition post.”
If it is in fact a Hudson Bay Co. post, there is a high likelihood that there will be trade journals archived about it. North West Co. however had a fire in one of their archives close to 100 years ago and lost a lot of their original post journals, making it difficult to identify what posts belonged to them.
Difficulties can arise in identifying trade posts, even with the presence of journals says Brownlee.
“We’ve got trading posts in northern Manitoba where nobody has been able to track down a journal for it, and it’s a Hudson Bay post,” said Brownlee, “they could have thought they were on a totally different river system, there’s a lot of reasons why these journals aren’t found.”
Blomquist and his team will be working through August until after the Labour Day weekend at Thompson’s first trading post on Sipiwesk Lake.