York Factory National Historic Site of Canada: Planning the Future for a Place with a Momentous Past

Article excerpt

"What then should be our blue-print for the future of York Factory? At his lecture Dr. Ritchie pointed out the need for action if the buildings at York Factory are to be saved. "It would be a tragedy to have the buildings deteriorate into ruin'. Think what could happen in ten years. It is the year 1970. Picture a plane flying low over what was once known as York Factory. The pilot says, "Look at the heap of rubble. Someone must have tried to build something here once. I guess the climate was too rugged. "If someone does not act soon this could well happen. Must York Factory become a ruin?" (i)

Forty years later the "historic place" of the Hudson's Bay Company's (HBC)York Factory post still exists and its three-storey Depot building still dominates the lowlands terrain of the Hudson Bay coast. But the Depot, and indeed the site of the larger post and settlement that were York Factory, lie in a precarious state. Riverbank erosion, discontinuous permafrost and ground drainage contribute to a fragile, unstable and a slowly disappearing land base that creates major challenges--and demands making choices and assigning priorities--to protecting the architectural and archaeological heritage of York Factory. In light of these unyielding threats, what will be the future state of the commemorative integrity of York Factory? What should be the long-term outcomes for managing this site and the immediate priorities? Are partnerships that benefit the protection and presentation of York Factory possible? Answering these questions will be pivotal for the management plan to be developed this coming year for York Factory National Historic Site of Canada (NHSC), a planning program that you can participate in.

York Factory NHSC is on the Hayes River about eight kilometres from Hudson Bay, and 250 kilometres south of Churchill. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recommended York Factory's designation as a national historic site in 1936. In 1968 the Government of Canada acquired 250 hectares of HBC property, eleven years after the HBC closed its trading operations there. York Factory--there were three of them; 1684-1715, 1715-1788 and 1788-1957--is commemorated for its critical role in the French-English struggle on Hudson Bay for control of the fur trade, as an important HBC trading post and entrepot for over 250 years, and as the principal base for expansion of the fur trade into the interior of western Canada. The first two York Factorys are long gone, eroded and washed away by the Hayes River. The Depot (constructed in the 1830s over top an 184 century fortification) is the third York Factory's most prominent heritage feature, but there are also no less than seventy building sites identified from historical and archaeological evidence. They represent a complex of transhipment, manufacturing, administration and residential functions from the late 18th, 19th and 20th century fur trade. More than 300,000 artifacts have been collected. The cemetery has no less than 200 to 300 graves (most unmarked) of traders and Cree who once lived at the post and settlement. York Factory--the Cree place name is Kihciwaskahihan ("the great house")--was the main settlement of the York Factory First Nation until the post closed in 1957. The place is still regarded by many of the York Factory First Nation as home. …