The Souris Mouth Posts
miles north of the little village of Treesbank the Souris River empties
into the Assiniboine. The site today is virtually uninhabited and this
area that was once the hub of commerce and communication, in both the
days of the fur trade and the early pioneer times, shows little
evidence of it's busy past. In pioneer times it was home to one of the
first Land Titles Offices in the area, one of the first post offices, a
school, and the town of Millford, just upstream, was a thriving boom
town. Earlier, around 1800, it was home to trading posts that
represented the interests of the major trading companies; The Hudson
Bay Company, The Northwest Company, the XY Company, and the
When the first traders set up posts near the mouth of the Souris River,
just before 1800, they were surprised that some neighboring natives
could recite Catholic prayers. This was a tribute to the persuasive
powers of a priest brought to the region by Sieur de La Verendrye some
five decades earlier. LaVerendrye did not establish any posts in the
region, but he did do enough exploring (or consultation with the native
inhabitants) to map the area roughly. Prud'Homme in "Review Canadienne
II" (1900) says that La Verendrye named the Souris the "St Pierre"
after himself, but the map he had drawn shows a river coming from the
north with that name.
Before the traders, and before LaVerendrye, the area was home to the
Stone Indians (Ossinepoilles / Assiniboines), They acquired their name
from the practice of using hot stones to cook meat. A hole in ground
lined was lined with buffalo hide. Water was poured in, meat was added
and then they put in heated stones. This method served them well until
kettles we introduced. While the traders of the Northwest Company
referred to the major tributary of the Red River as the "Upper Red", it
was soon generally known as the Assiniboine, and the territory
surrounding it was "Assiniboia". The origin of the name of the Souris
is not so clear. It was alternately the Mouse, the Sandfly or the Sandy
on early maps.
At one time, at the beginning of the 19th century, as many as five
competing trading posts were operating in the Souris Mouth area. They
were often similar in pattern. They had to be strategically created for
defense against, yet for trade with, the Indians. They were near the
old Indian trails, on knolls or elevations.
The H.B.C. post Brandon House was a good example. It was accessible to
river, and had a good view of both banks and surrounding country, but
it was approached with difficulty from land because it was surrounded
A stockade was built, possibly of 8 - 10 ft. poles. These are often
only visible today as shallow trenches. Gateways (usually two) are
visible as breaks in the trench. The buildings would usually include a
two story structure like a hotel that served as a store. It was located
just inside gate and had two parts - one with a counter open to Indians
- the other for stores and arms Several dwellings provided residences
for the "Winterers" (more important factors or managers)
photo was taken from the north. The first Brandon House was
located in the small clearing just right of centre, about 100 metres
north of the river. The YY and Northwest Co. posts were south of the
Souris enters the Assiniboine
Approaching the brandon House site from the
river, in 2017.
A slight depression, formerly a basement, is one of the few remaining
signs of human habitation is of 2017.
Before the Souris Mouth forts were established the only post in the
region was Pine Fort, built in 1785. It was on the north bank of the
Assiniboine about one mile west of the mouth of Pine Creek (also Wattap
Creek) Tyrell examined the site in 1890 and found it half washed away.
More recent archeological work in the 1970's helped to establish the
importance of the site. An American fur trader, Peter Pond, wrote in
"Upon the branches of the Missury live the Maudiens,
(Mandans) who bring to our factory at Fort Epinette on the Assiniboine
River Indian corn for sale. Our people go to them with loaded horses in
12 days." (Assiniboine Basin)
When Alexander Henry stopped in 1805 the post was long abandoned. His
observation was that the "scarcity of wood, provisions and other
circumstances." had made it necessary to build up river. Competition
had begun to force trading companies to develop more accessible forts.
In the early days of the fur trade, the HBC managers, with their
virtual monopoly, could afford to let the trade come to them. As the
eighteenth century drew to a close, it became necessary to reach out to
their Indian suppliers. Pine was abandoned in 1794, in favor of the
Souris Mouth location. It experienced a brief rebirth and was rebuilt
with materials from XY Fort (near Souris Mouth) in 1807. But it
operated for only a short period before it again was shut down.
The XY and La Souris Forts
Internal strife in the Northwest Company caused the breakaway of a
group who called themselves the XY Company, so named for the large XY
they marked on their bales of fur to distinguish them from the produce
of the North West Co. They located on the south bank across from
Assiniboine House. In 1805 the breakaway XY co reunited with the NW
Co.. Both Fort XY and Fort Assiniboine closed and a new fort was built
in same quarter section on the south bank.
The rivalry between the competing fur traders was carried on in a
somewhat gentlemanly fashion for many years. Harmon recounts the story
of his visit to the Souris Mouth area in 1805 that Mr. Chaboillez, the
manager of the Northwest fort invited people of the other two forts to
a ball. Drinking went on into the night and was followed up with
breakfast in the morning. The trade had it's ups and downs, but when
game was abundant there was food for all and trade enough to support
the various factions. Other forces were coming into play however. Lord
Selkirk's Red River Settlement was not well received by the Northwest
Company and many of the Metis who made their livings trading and
hunting. As competition became more fierce hostilities broke out.
In 1816 a group of Metis, who were in league with the Northwesters
(some would say manipulated by them), and who were on their way to what
eventually became known as the massacre at Seven Oaks, looted and
burned the buildings at Brandon House. This was in response to an HBC
edict banning trade in pemmican which was in turn a measure to ensure
adequate supply for the Red River colonists. It was rebuilt in summer
and fall but was again attacked. A decision was made to rebuild on the
south side of the river. Peter Fidler who was in charge at the time
reports that in 1818 it was comprised of smith and cooper's shops, a
trading room, provisions stores, stables , and houses. It was abandoned
in 1821 in favour of the original site, which was, in turn, again
abandoned in 1824. In 1828 the third Brandon House was built
overlooking Glen Souris.
Brown's 1974 book, "The Fort Brandon Story" examines earlier
research and conludes that Brandon House #1 was on the north west side
of the river across from Mair's Creek.
Life in the
The inhabitants of the forts varied with seasons. The more or less
permanent guards stayed year round with their wives adnd children.
Various hunters and peddlers were less permanent residents. The traders
set out from Michilmacimac or Fort William in early spring. The boats
were rowed by "comers and goers" also called "the pork eaters". It was
a two month trip. They brought rolls of Brazil tobacco, kegs of powder,
cloth, wine, vermilion, beads, and axes. All value was computed in
reference to beaver pelts. For example one horse would equal sixty
skins, a gun might be fifteen skins.
Living conditions varied according to the availability of game. In 1797
John MacDonell reported a land of plenty. Buffalo were plentiful, as
were moose, deer and fowl. But In 1806 Alexander Henry reported a
shortage of supplies and that Fort La Souris was in "miserable
condition: they have neither flesh nor fish-nothing but some old musty
No account of the times would be complete without at least a brief look
at some of the central characters. The Hudson Bay Company, in
particular, has kept records of its commerce in the area but for more
personal accounts we must rely on diaries, letters and journals. In
fact several of the key figures in the exploration and exploitation of
the area kept detailed journals.
At Brandon House in 1815 the bourgeois in charge was a surveyor by
trade named Peter Fidler. Peter had, by that time, had a wide variety
of experience across the west. Thanks to him we have some detailed
accounts of life in that time and place. His reports on the daily life
of the fort he managed and visited help give us a picture. He also left
us with a rather good map of the region, though why it was drawn upside
down we don't know.
As was the custom, he married an Indian wife. In other ways he was
quite the eccentric. He is remembered for his rather unique will. He
stipulated that, after other dispositions the remaining money was to be
put in "public funds and the interest annually to be added to the
capital" until 1969 (200 years after his birth and that the proceeds be
given to the male heir in direct descent from his son Peter. He
miscalculated, however, as there was no money left to invest. He was
both eccentric and a bit optimistic.
The explorer David Thompson called Assiniboine House home for just over
two months. This was just shortly after he quit the employ of the
Hudson Bay Co, when they insisted he stop his exploration and map
activities and concentrate on the fur trade. The rival Northwest Co,
was only too happy to enlist his services. He set out from Assiniboine
House on Tue. Nov. 28 1797 on a journey south. On Dec. 7 he stayed at
Ash House near Hartney. He traveled to the Missouri River. On the way
back he stopped at Souris (Plum Creek). He arrived back at Assiniboine
House on Feb. Feb. 3 1798. He also explored the sand hills that winter.
Thompson was a bit of a bit of an exception to the pattern his
contemporaries had established. Being a devoutly religious man who
neither drank nor cursed, he spoke out against the trading of alcohol
to the Indians and seemed to be a defender of Indian culture in
general. And although he did follow the custom of taking a native wife,
unlike many others he regarded it as a permanent arrangement. His
fourteen year old bride probably had no cause to expect such a
commitment. They did indeed stay together 'til death.." and raised
thirteen children together.
as Hind saw it
erected at the
site of Brandon House #3
region in the
early 1800's - showing Thompson's route.
For several years
Alexander Henry (The Younger) , another explorer who was to go on to
bigger and better things, was stationed at the Northwest Fort at
Pembina, where in addition to supervising operations there he
experimented with gardening and kept a pet bear. On July 7, 1806 he set
out from Pembina on a journey to the Mandan Villages in the Missouri
River territory. He stopped at Pine Fort on July 12. He passed through
the sand hills, to Brandon House (the opposing company), and they
ferried him across to La Souris House. After two days rest he set out
again on July 14 with seven men and eight horses.
He passed from Brandon House, over the Moosehead Hills (Brandon Hills)
noted Lake Clementi and the view to the north where he could make out
the spot where the Rapid River (Little Saskatchewan) entered the
He stopped at Ash House near Hartney before going south to Mandan
country. He returned to La Souris on August 9 by way of the Turtle
Mountains. He crossed the Souris at a place he called the Grand Passage
- between Margaret and Nesbitt a few miles above the input from the
His journals contain a matter-of-fact daily account of his life and
travels. They reveal a man who had little respect for his native
contemporaries. Although he did acknowledge that the liquor trade was
destroying them, he pressed on with business as usual.
From the start the fur traders tried to supplement their provisions
with some form of agriculture. Peter Fidler reported that there were
three acres under cultivation at Brandon House . There were good crops
from 1812 - 1816 but then a drought set in. The barley was destroyed by
grasshoppers in 1818.
He speaks of cucumbers, melons and onions. They had a plow. Potatoes
had been introduced as early as 1780. Cabbages and turnip were main
crops until 1803. Wheat was grown, and oats were tried.
Alexander Henry reported that "at Portage la Prairie we have an
excellent garden... potatoes, carrots, corn, onions, parsnips, beets.
turnips, etc.... Cabbages and melons do not turn out so well as at
Wild rice was harvested in small lakes east of Brandon House. The
rivers were full of fish. In the spring sturgeon would go upstream from
Lake Winnipeg as high as the Shell River. The Indians would build
fences in the rivers to keep them from returning. In 1811 seed
potatoes, horses, and perhaps seed grain were available at Brandon
A New Era
The period from 1830 to 1870 was a period of transition. It was a very
slow transition by modern standards. The fur trade was becoming less
profitable, but agriculture was not yet ready to become feasible.
By 1850 independent traders in collusion with American fur buyers were
destroying the HBC monopoly. The Red River Colony also resisted efforts
to enforce the monopoly. The forts at Souris Mouth had all been
abandoned by 1832. Fort Ellice, many miles upstream on the Assiniboine
became the focal point for the HBC, while the forts of independents and
Americans were located in the Hartney - Lauder area.
At the same time, railroads were being built westward in the US,
threatening the traditional river / Great Lakes trade route.
North-South trade routes were established and flourished. The HBC was
Was agriculture viable on these prairies? The HBC wasn't interested in
an objective answer, but many years earlier the people in charge of the
forts had already determined much earlier that "anything will grow
here." But could it be grown in quantities, and efficiently enough to
still be a cash crop once you factor in transportation to the market -
meaning the cities of Upper and Lower Canada?
The Canadian government commissioned Professor Henry Youle Hind, a
Toronto geologist to explore the region in light of that question.
During the summer of 1859 he and his party of 13 men explored
southwestern Manitoba. They camped at the mouth of the Souris and took
the first photographs of that river. They were particularly impressed
by the grasshoppers which Hind insisted took only ten minutes to
destroy three pairs of woolen trousers, but they also noticed the
numbers of fish rising to catch grasshoppers. They were watchful of the
Sioux whom Hind called the "tigers of the plains", and they noted the
beauty of the Brandon Hills. They noted the lack of timber, but found
what they were looking for - fertile land.
By this time the invention of machine pressed cloth felt was beginning
to kill the beaver trade. Glossy top hats replaced "beavers" as
fashionable headgear in Western Europe. Lower demand for beaver,
coupled with the fact that they were increasingly hard (time-consuming,
expensive) to find, spelled the beginning of the end for the fur trade.
Not everyone accepted the changes. When told of settlement plans and
railway proposals the Governor of HBC said, "Take away the fertile
lands where our buffalo feed! Let in all kinds of people to squat and
settle and frighten away the fur-bearing animals they don't kill and
hunt. Impossible!" P27. At about the same time an editorial in a
British paper called the whole idea of settlement of the west a fraud
and called Canada "over-rated" as a colony. It speculated that
"eventually will have to go into liquidation." p29
But the impossible happened. In 1869 HBC sold most of Rupert's Land to
Dominion of Canada. In 1870 Manitoba joined as the fifth province.
Before long settlers lured by cheap land - "without the tedious and
exhausting labour of years required in woodland farming...." were
finding their way westward.
For $10 you got a quarter section provided certain improvements were
made within a three year period. You could also apply for a preemption
on an additional quarter. It was too good a deal for an adventuresome
person to pass up.
The Manitoba Boom of the 1870's and 80's affected the Souris Mouth
particularly in the years from 1879 to 1882.
In 1879 the first European settlers to the westman area were favouring
region to the north of the Assiniboine. The wooded valley of the Little
Saskatchewan River was attractive. The towns of Minnedosa and Rapid
City were established, and there was considerable expectation the the
rail link to the west would pass through the region. The Grand Valley /
Currie's Landing settlements were established
By 1880 settlement had started in the Souris Mouth area, where Millford
became the first established village south of the Assiniboine.
As settlement proceeded along the Souris Valley and to the south, the
Souris Mouth area was a well traveled corridor and a centre of commerce
for the region. Souris City, located about half way between Millford
and the Souris Bend, became the second trade centre in the area.
By 1882 the first wave of settlement had occupied most of the prime
farm land. What followed was a sort of settling-in period as people
became accustomed to the new way of life and patterns of commerce and
transportation sorted themselves out.
In a few short years, the area went from being largely uninhabited to
being well populated.
Brown, Mrs. A.E. , The Fur Trade Posts of the
Souris-Mouth Area, The Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba
Papers Series III
Brown, Roy, The Brandon Hill Connection, Tourism
Unlimited, Brandon Mb
Brown, Roy, The Fort Brandon Story, Tourism
Unlimited, 158 8th St. Brandon Mb
Clarke, Lawrence, B. Souris Valley Plains : A
History , Souris Plaindealer, Souris Mb.
Mackie, H., Pine Fort : A Preliminary Report ,
Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, 1972
McMorran, Souris River Posts, Souris Plaindealer,
Kavanagh, Martin, The Assiniboine Basin, The Gresham
Press, Old Woking, Surrey, England
Welsted, John, Everitt, John, And Stadel, Christoph
: The Geography of Manitoba : Its Land and People. University of