Native Encampment

In the mid-1600's the Ojibwa east of Lake Superior began to move westward, and by the late 1770's, Ojibwa settlements circled Lake Superior. One of these settlements was located on the Kaministikwia River. Eye-witness accounts of Fort William in the early 1800's usually mention a Native encampment east of the palisade. A painting dated 1805 shows clusters of dome-shaped wigwams huddled at the south-east corner of the Fort; illustrations from the Hudson's Bay Company period (after 1821) depict conical tepees and wigwams. 

These habitations reflect the culture of a people continually adapting to their environment as they had for thousands of years. Ojibwa family groups moved through these woodlands around Lake Superior in a seasonal round that included fishing, hunting, and gathering, and trade gatherings with other Native groups. With the coming of the Europeans, many Ojibwa incorporated the demands of the fur trade: trapping fur-bearing animals, and more prolonged contact with trading posts to supply pelts and other services.

The Ojibwa inhabiting the western Lake Superior region were also known as the Saulteaux, or Chippewa, while to the north were the Cree. Probably both tribes were represented at Fort William during the Rendezvous when Natives from surrounding areas came to trade their furs and exchange their labour and produce for commodities available at the Indian Shop. While most Natives departed for their hunting grounds as summer ended, some stayed behind to participate in winter activities of the fort.

During the NWC period, there were probably about 150 Ojibwa living in the Kaministikwia district.  A number of Ojibwa names appear quite regularly in the Fort William transaction records, probably the members of the Ojibwa community adjacent to the fort. It is probable that they based their operations at Fort William, but continued to undertake seasonal journeys and encampments for the purpose of harvesting maple sugar, wild rice, snaring rabbits, fishing, and hunting game. One of these expeditions might last weeks or even months, so the Ojibwa population at Fort William was constantly in flux.

In addition to their own activities, the Ojibwa at Fort William supported the operation of the post.  Women worked in the kitchen and canoe sheds, as well as the farm, and received payment in the form of trade goods. Men might be engaged in hunting or fishing for the NWC, and any other service in labour or expertise that the company might require. 

As producers, the Ojibwa were integral to the needs of the NWC at Fort William. The transaction records show the quantity of provisions and materials supplied to the post and its personnel: bark, wattap and spruce for canoe-building, snowshoes, moccasins, skins, maple sugar, berries, wild rice, and fresh game.