Corporate History

A Dynamic Approach to Heritage Tourism

Fort William Historical Park Vision Statement:

boardroom_meeting.pngFort William Historical Park will continually strengthen its economic impact upon Northwestern Ontario through its role as a unique, leading multi-component destination tourist attraction that exceeds customer expectations by providing outstanding cultural, recreational, entertainment and educational experiences.

Fort William Historical Park is the world's largest reconstructed fur trade post, a leading alternative education centre, and a first-class meeting and convention facility.

This unique heritage attraction operated by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture offers visitors an authentic re-creation of Fort William - the original inland headquarters of the North West Company between 1803 and 1821. Our 40 heritage buildings are situated on a pristine 225 acre property along the Kaministiquia River and include a working farm, great hall, voyageur and Native encampments and many artisans' shops such as the blacksmith, cooper, and tinsmith.

The North West Company's role in exploring and ultimately founding Canada comes to life through Fort William Historical Park's outstanding living history program depicting the Fort's fur trade activities. Visitors to the Fort can step into the past and experience the rough and tumble life of a fur trade post as costumed interpreters portray the Scottish traders, French Canadian voyageurs, artisans, and Ojibwa and Metis aboriginals who gathered at the Fort.

The vision and leadership of Fort William in the economic, political, and cultural spheres continues today. Our $60 million infrastructure supports diversified programs, partnerships, and special events and brings 100,000 visitors to the Fort every year. We are a key economic catalyst in Northwestern Ontario as well as a major employer with full-time contract, and seasonal workers.

The core purposes of Fort William Historical Park are to:

  • Act as a significant regional economic catalyst through its role as a major North American tourist attraction, by developing effective partnerships and strategic alliances.
  • Operate one of North America's largest year-round indoor/outdoor cultural heritage attractions that exceeds customer expectations.
  • Contribute to the preservation and understanding of the important elements of Canada's cultural heritage for present and future generations
  • Act as a focus for regional destination tourism development

Our core purposes guide and direct the operations of the Fort and give us the mandate to pursue creative and original approaches to heritage tourism.

Rebuilding Our Heritage

Northwestern Ontario's history is synonymous with the history of North America's fur trade. It was this realization that led to the Ontario government's decision to rebuild Fort William in order to celebrate this important chapter of Canada's heritage and revitalize Northwestern Ontario's economy. The reconstruction of the Fort at Pointe de Meuron near the mouth of the Kaministiquia River was announced in January 1971 by Premier John Robarts. In June, new premier William Davis turned the sod for Old Fort William Historical Park thereby launching a 13 year building campaign to replicate the original Fort William.

Officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on July 3, 1973 under the auspices of the Ministry of Natural Resources, this major heritage and cultural attraction was an instant success. During Fort William Historical Park's history, it has also been under the direction of a number of other provincial ministries including the Ministry of Economic Development Trade & Tourism; the Ministry of Tourism; the Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Recreation; the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation; and our current ministry - Tourism.

In its inaugural year, Fort William Historical Park had three heritage buildings open to the public with plans for building forty-three other structures original to the nineteenth-century Fort. The vast scale of the Fort was essential to ensuring a truly unique tourism experience and significantly contributing to Northwestern Ontario's economic prosperity. Consequently, ten heritage buildings were constructed in 1974 followed by fourteen buildings between 1975 and 1976.

On September 9, 1977 Old Fort William Historical Park had its first major setback. A heavy rainfall caused the Kaministiquia River to flood its banks causing severe damage to the Fort. There was four feet of water in every building and the Curatorial Department and Resource Library had to be moved to the lofts of their buildings. The Fort responded quickly to the crisis and drainage and renovation work soon restored the Fort to its original condition. A berm was built around the main transformer and 500 feet of wharf was replaced as part of the reparation process.

The remaining heritage buildings were built in the period 1979-84 including our magnificent Great Hall. Our historic buildings have been complemented by contemporary buildings and facilities to increase our services as our core purposes were broadened. Other highlights of the 1980's included the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the original Fort William and the launching of the schooner "Pereseverance." A royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of York on July 16, 1987 helped Fort William Historical Park celebrate its 15th anniversary. This was also the year we were proud to welcome our 1.5 millionth visitor. As the Fort continued to grow, our visitor amenities were also expanded: a dock was built for the Welcome Ship to accommodate visitors arriving at the Fort after cruises along the Kaministiquia River and a shuttle bus service was introduced.

In 1991, construction began on a new visitor centre, "Rendezvous Place," which was completed in the summer of 1992. The opening festivities were attended by Deputy Minister Linda Stevens and Assistant Deputy Minister Peter Jackman as well as by other political dignitaries. The striking new centre was made of wood, stone, and other natural materials and featured an impressive theme mural in the foyer honouring the Fort's fur trade heritage created by four local artists. The building housed the new reservations and admissions area, washrooms, an orientation film and exhibits, McGillivray's Landing Banquet Hall, and the Trading Post gift shop.

Periodic maintenance and renovation operations are scheduled as part of the Fort's upkeep and to diversify our services. In 1990, for instance, bunks and storage cabinets were constructed in the Bell House, the headquarters of the Education Department, to allow the department to run more efficiently. A second, much larger restoration project was carried out in 1993 when the palisade, gates, and cedar shakes on the roofs of the historic buildings were replaced. In 1997, visitors to the Fort were given more dining options when the Café Kaministiquia in the Rendezvous Place was formally unveiled by the Fort's Managing Director, Ron Zizman. Our educational and entertainment opportunities were also expanded with the construction of the Learning Wigwam in the Native Encampment in 2000. This innovative project, sponsored by Bearskin Airlines, opened during the Fort's annual Ojibwa Keeshigun Native Festival. Tourism Minister Cam Jackson was on hand to introduce this new building to the public.

The Fort experienced its second flood in April 2003 after continuous rainfall coupled with a spring thaw caused the water levels on the Kaministiquia River to surge, creating a destructive flash flood. Chunks of ice slammed into the Fort's wharf puncturing one corner of the wooden palisade. Floor and exhibit items were covered with silt. Although, the majority of the livestock and draft horses were saved, the damage to the grounds and buildings necessitated a massive clean up project.

The Fort was able to swiftly marshal its resources and implement efficient flood recovery measures. This allowed us to focus on the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of Fort William's Great Rendezvous in the summer of 2003. Part of the festivities included General Manager Sergio Buonocore's announcement of our new, more historically accurate name: Fort William Historical Park

In November of 2003, our heritage library was also re-named. In recognition of the contributions of former Fort historian Jean Morrison, it became known as "The Jean Morrison Canadian Fur Trade Library." Other recent changes include the renovation of the Great Hall's kitchen and the further development of our meeting and convention capabilities. To this end, a state-of-the-art sound system, as well as new walls and carpeting, were added to the Rendezvous Place and new audio-visual components were installed in the North Canoe Shed. Fort William Historical Park will continue to evolve in order to provide visitors with an authentic glimpse of nineteenth-century fur trade life and to offer contemporary programs and services to meet the needs of twenty-first century life.

Focused on the Future of Northwestern Ontario

Some of the Fort's recent major initiatives to develop strategic partnerships and enhance our program offerings include the Kaministiquia River Heritage Parkway (KRHP), Rock the Fort, and the Tallships Adventure Learning Centre. The KRHP is an exciting tourism campaign utilizing the adventure, cultural, and natural resources of the Kaministiquia River Delta to promote Thunder Bay as a tourist destination. An essential component of the KRHP involved developing strong alliances with regional tourism partners to create golf, hockey, cross country skiing, and slip and slide (snow tubing/snowboarding and waterslide) vacation packages. Our hugely popular Rock the Fort concert also attracted visitors to our area. This new addition to our annual special events line-up was a thrilling 3-day festival of classic Canadian rock held at the Fort's natural amphitheatre near our Visitor Centre. More than 45,000 music fans had a great time listening to their favourite bands and relaxing in the summer sunshine.

Fort William Historical Park has garnered countless awards for its forward-thinking approach to heritage tourism and enriched Ontario's cultural and economic landscape.  We will continue to forge new business partnerships and alliances, stimulate economic growth in our region, and give visitors to our site unparalleled heritage experiences as we play an increasingly larger role in Northwestern Ontario's economy.