The fur trade sent European trade goods and men into the interior of North America in search of the prized beaver pelt. The beaver fur was valued because its properties made it ideal for the production of felt top hats, an essential fashion item in Europe. As the trade reached its peak in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, one of the largest and most powerful participants was the North West Company of Montreal.
Based in Montreal and using the French methods of pursuing the fur trade in the interior, the Nor'Westers were able to amass great fortunes. The price of such success, however, was constant expansion. The company's trading territory became so widespread that transporting furs and goods between Montreal and the trade posts in the course of a single season was impossible.
The solution to this difficulty was to have an inland headquarters at the halfway point between Montreal and the furthest western posts. This way separate crews of voyageur could bring goods from the east and furs from the west, meet at the headquarters, exchange cargoes and make it home before winter. Originally, this headquarters was located at Grand Portage on Lake Superior. After Jay's Treaty established the boundary between the United States and British North America, the Company was forced to relocate or pay taxes to the Americans for goods and furs shipped across the border. In 1801 the company began building its new headquarters on Lake Superior at the mouth of the Kaministikwia River. The new post was built on a grand scale to reflect the wealth and prestige of the company. First used for the Rendezvous of 1803 and called Fort Kaministikwia, the post was re-named in honour of the company's chief director, William McGillivray, in 1807. Following the merger of the North West and Hudson's Bay Companies in 1821, Fort William lost importance as a shipping post and fell into disrepair. In the early 1970's using archaeological evidence, exhaustive research, journals, sketches and inventories, the inland headquarters of the North West Company was re-constructed on the banks of the Kaministikwia River on the outskirts of the city it gave rise to: Thunder Bay. Impressive in any century, we invite you to explore Fort William.