The Buildings

Below is a list of the structures found at Fort William Historical Park. Click on any of the locations for more information.

To help you locate each of the buildings, you may view and print our map of the Fort. Each building is numbered and has a brief description of each building below the map itself.

PDF Document FWHP's Site Map

The Tinsmith's Shop

The majority of tinsmiths hired by the North West Company came from Montreal or its suburbs, particularly the fauxbourg St. Laurent. Most of these men were French Canadian.

In Europe, with its well-established guild system, an apprentice would serve seven years under a master craftsman before he completed his apprenticeship and became a journeyman. In North America where the guilds never gained control of the trades, the length of the apprenticeship varied greatly, often determined by the demand for the trade. The greater the demand, the shorter the apprenticeship. This apprenticeship could be perhaps for four or five years.

It was becoming more common by 1816 for apprentices to receive some form of schooling during their apprenticeship. French Canadian parents asked for schooling in 5% of apprenticeship contracts, British Canadian parents asked for schooling in 64%. Those apprentices that received schooling attended night school until they had leaned the ‘rule of three' (reading, writing and ciphering). A number of the tradesmen at Fort William were literate.

Typically, a tradesman hired by the North West Company was a journeyman who had just completed his apprenticeship, and wanted to earn sufficient funds to establish himself as a self-employed artisan.

The contracts signed by the tradesmen at Fort William were usually for three years. Occasionally there were contracts signed for as long as four years, or as short as one season. One of the tinsmiths working at Fort William in 1816 signed a three-year contract for 1000 livres per annum, with an advance of 15 dollars. This tinsmith, Joseph Robert started his work in the fur trade with the XY Company. He joined the North West Company in 1804 when the XY and North West Companies merged; and was still working at Fort William after the merger of the North West and Hudson's Bay Companies in 1821. As Robert's career illustrates, a few tradesmen spent their entire working life in the fur trade.

The social position of the tinsmith was above that of the voyageur and other labourers, but below the Bourgeois, or gentlemen. The tinsmiths like the other tradesmen at Fort William reported to Mr. James Taitt, the senior clerk and superintendent of the fort.

 

Tailor's Shop

During the Rendezvous, the tailor made clothing for wintering partners from material chosen in the Little Shop. Throughout the year, he made clothing required for the fur trade, such as the chief's coats and capotes.

One tailor, William Armstrong of Montreal, who signed on with the Company in 1809, was to winter for two years at Fort William and work there at his trade.

Cooper's Shop

The wooden cask, made with staves, two heads, and hoops that hold it firmly together is one of man's outstanding inventions. It is only slightly less important than the wheel in the history of human progress. It has served as an excellent multipurpose container throughout recorded history. The hand method of fabricating the cask has been basically the same for the past three thousand years.

Coopering was a very important craft at Fort William. The following goods were shipped to and from the fort in barrels, casks and kegs: gunpowder, liquors, vinegar, pork, beef, butter, sausages, raisins, figs, prunes, cheese, sugar, tobacco, gum flour, salt, peas, and fish. In 1816, there was enough wood for one hundred and fifty kegs, and in 1820, for two hundred kegs.  To make this quantity, the cooper would need a large work area. This explains why his shop is so large when compared to the blacksmith and tinsmith's shop.

The Carpenter's Shop

Besides constructing new buildings at Fort William, carpenters were needed to repair existing ones. Even under the best conditions, wooden structures require a lot of maintenance; Fort William's location on low, swampy ground meant that a full time carpenter was needed to keep up with building repairs.

Some carpenters who came to Fort William were also joiners, that is, makers of furniture, house fittings and fine woodwork. While some men were hired as both carpenters and joiners, others served in one capacity or the other. Inventories of tools taken at the time suggest that the Carpenter's Shop was primarily the workplace for joining activity.