The Historic Collection

Tradesman and woman holding wooden bucketThe Fort's Historic Collection of approximately 15,000 objects encompasses the material culture of the Fort. The majority of the objects are functional pieces such as glassware, furniture, tools, and utensils. Some of the works, however, are surprisingly ornate given the wilderness location of the Fort and the time period. Original objects from the early nineteenth century, although not original to the Fort, represent approximately half of our collection while the other half consists of reproduction objects. Many of our reproductions have been created by artisans at the Fort such as our blacksmith, cooper, armourer, tinsmith, and carpenter. Some of the highlights of our diverse collection include birch bark canoes - vehicles essential to the operation of the fur trade, a team of draft horses used to work the Fort's farm, and a reproduction portraiture collection of North West Company dignitaries and other important historic figures. The breadth of the collection is also demonstrated by our fully operational period fire engine and our intriguing, and somewhat intimidating, electrifying machine used to treat a staggering variety of ills.


Fire Engine

Three tradesmen standing around historic fire engine which has hand levers for them to push to pump water

In Doctor John Allen's statement of 1816, the first item in his inventory of Fort utensils is "1 Fire Engine - ₤70." This is the earliest known documentation of a fire engine in Canada west of Sault Ste. Marie. No further description of this specific machine has been found in any documented source. However, fire engines used in facilities like Fort William were almost certainly of the common manually operated hand pump variety that had a pressure tank and long brass nozzle mounted on top.


Dr. McLoughlin's Ramsden Electrifying Machine

Doctor operating electrifying machine which is a large glass wheel turning inside a brass frame with fur like brushes rubbing on glass wheelThe great era of medical electricity began with the development of the static-electricity machine in the latter part of the 17th century and culminated in the latter part of the 19th century. Although there was much quackery associated with medical electricity, there were some very useful applications.



voyageur carrying birch bark canoe with children

Fort William Historical Park has a collection of approximately 22 birch bark canoes constructed by the Fort's master canoe builder, Dave Brown, and his assistants. Unlike most items in historic collections, our canoes are regularly used by the Fort's voyageurs and visitors as well as children in our education programs. Dave, and the other artisans of the Fort, use materials and techniques that were common in the early nineteenth century to create objects authentic to the original Fort William. The birch bark canoe is a particularly important object in the Fort's collection because it created and sustained the fur trade in North America.