Chapter 3: The
18: The Hartney – Lauder Posts
The fur trade in Manitoba began with the establishment of the Hudson’s
Bay Company in 1670, and for nearly a century Aboriginal traders made
the long trip to the shores of Hudson’s Bay to exchange furs for
European trade goods shipped in from Britain.
In the 1870’s independent traders, and the Northwest Company from
Montreal, started to trade in what used to be HBC territory. The HBC
had to move out from Hudson’s Bay to compete.
For a time, Souris Mouth, where the Souris River empties into the
Assiniboine, was an important centre with up to five trading posts
operating within a few kilometres.
Starting in 1795, traders were building trading posts farther west,
along the Souris River. Between Hartney and Lauder, four important
posts have been identified. These posts were along the river and close
to the grazing grounds of the buffalo. The production and supply
of pemmican, was a big part of their business.
Fort Ash (Fort de la Freniere)
The first fur post established on the river was Fort Ash.
Canadian explorer David Thompson spent about two days in the region in
December of 1797, on his way south to Mandan country. He recalled
passing by “the old trading post called the Ash House from the plenty
of those fine trees. It had to be given up from it being too open to
the incursions of the Sioux."
The American Fort
On the north bank of the Souris, almost straight north of Lauder, is a
site locals referred to as the American Fort, likely built by the
American Fur Company in about 1810. The size of its chimney mounds
indicates that it was in operation for some time, but few records have
been found to tell us more.
Fort Mr. Grant
In 1824 Cuthbert Grant built Fort Grant on the Souris River, about two
miles south west of Hartney. He was encouraged in this venture by HBC
boss, Governor Simpson, who expected Grant to keep American and
independent traders out of the Souris Valley.
It is on the north bank of the river, perhaps fifty yards from the
water. The cellars and chimney mounds were still visible in 1948.
Fort Grant operated from 1824-1861, part of this time as a winter fort
19: Fort Desjarlais
A sketch from the “Souris Valley Plains” by Hartney teacher and
historian Larry Clarke.
Desjarlais, built in 1836 by Joseph
Desjarlais, was located on the
north bank of the Souris, north of Lauder and very close to the
It featured a sturdy oak palisade surrounding a long log building and
several smaller ones. The Souris River ran past the south wall. As the
site was in the territory frequented by Dakota war parties it was well
protected. At its peak there would often be over seventy men at the
fort. It operated for about twenty years, and was likely destroyed in
the great prairie fire that swept the region in 1856.
The fort was serviced mainly by Red River carts using the Yellow Quill
Trail, which ran from near Fort Garry (Winnipeg), up the Assiniboine
and Souris Rivers.
It is believed that Desjarlais and his men were also buffalo hunters -
trading buffalo robes and selling pemmican to the Hudson Bay Company.
A Changing Economy
Around 1850 the fur trade was becoming a less important part of the
economy of our country.
By 1874 the boundary between Canada and the United States was marked
and both countries began surveying the land and dividing it into the
section-township-range system – for use as farms.
The Desjarlais site in 2016.
The Turtle Mountain & Souris River Posts
addition to the clusters of posts at
Souris Mouth and in the
Hartney-Lauder area, there were several other attempts to reach out to
In the fall of 1801, John McKay of Brandon House sent Henry Lena with
seven men and supplies to Turtle Mountain along with instructions to
“cut off every independent” fur trader in that area.
Lena House is one of two fur trading posts located near Turtle
Mountain. It was close to the southeastern shore of Whitewater Lake and
some distance east of Turtlehead Creek. It operated from about 1801
until 1802 but was not very successful in its aim of closing down rival
trade in the area. The XY Company set up a trading post about a
kilometre away, placing themselves directly on the path that the
Assiniboine First Nations would take were they to cross Turtle Mountain
In 1846, Governor Simpson of the HBC informed the Company head office
in London that a new post was being established on Turtle Mountain.
This fort seems to have operated from 1846 to 1855.
Lena House wasn’t a big success. It did survive long enough, though, to
provide the name for one of southwestern Manitoba's small hamlets.
Although there is little left of Lena the village, it is also the name
of an international port of entry south of Killarney.
A total of 18 posts grew and faded from the Souris River between
present-day Souris, Manitoba and Minot, North Dakota. Almost all traces
have been erased and few records remain, but we do know that an
American Fur Company Trading Post was located near where North Antler
Creek enters the Souris.
There is also a record of a post near Melita operated by Peter
Garrioch, established in 1843, and at least one other independent
operation in the Melita – Napinka area.
The Metis Hunting Grounds
Metis Hunting Camp
around 1820, large hunting
expeditions from the Red River
Settlement set out twice a year to supply the settlers and the Hudson’s
Bay Company with pemmican and hides.
The hunt was very important to the food supply of the HBC and the
settlers at Red River (now known as Winnipeg). The hunt got bigger each
year until about 1840, when 1,210 carts were used. The larger hunt took
place in summer and a smaller one in autumn.
In some cases Metis hunting communities located on the plains in
temporary villages. Some were only several families large, while others
could have 1000 people. The villages were made up of roughly-built
sturdy huts. It often took no longer than a day or two to construct
such a hut with the aid of a single axe and a knife.
A wintering community generally consisted of hunters, their families
and a few fur traders.
The general locations of the some of the wintering
existed in southwest Manitoba.
Buildings were usually constructed in late fall in preparation for
winter and abandoned in early spring. Sites of past communities were
not generally returned to year after year because of changes in buffalo
wintering ranges, and also due to the fact that rival First Nations
would often burn the buildings to the ground as soon as they were
As the bison disappeared in the late 1870s, wintering communities were
not needed and most of them simply disappeared from the prairies.
Some Métis hunters and their families did stay and become the first
homesteaders in the region.