Fort Pitt

Founded in 1829 and located at a large bend in the North Saskatchewan River, Fort Pitt was the Hudson’s Bay Company’s major trading post between Fort Carlton and Fort Edmonton. From 1829 to 1876 Fort Pitt’s main role in the fur trade was to supply provisions such as dried meat, buffalo grease, and furs. In 1876, Fort Pitt and Fort Carlton were chosen to co-host the signing of Treaty 6. Fort Pitt was also to play an important part in the North-West Resistance of 1885. On March 26, 1885, the Métis uprising and victory over government forces at Duck Lake encouraged the Cree in the western region of Saskatchewan to confront the government. On April 2, 1885, Cree warriors of Big Bear’s band, led by Wandering Spirit, killed nine people and took several hostages at Frog Lake. After the massacre, 250 Cree warriors moved from Frog Lake to camp on a hill overlooking Fort Pitt, the closest fort to Frog Lake. Not having enough horses or wagons to allow them to escape, the people in Fort Pitt prepared for a siege. There were 67 people in the fort at the time, including approximately 23 NWMP stationed there under the command of Inspector Francis Dickens, son of Charles Dickens, the British author. The fort, built for trading, provided very little protection for the police and the other occupants. On April 13, 1885, Dickens sent Constables Clarence Loasby, David Cowan and Henry Quinn out of the fort to try to locate Big Bear’s camp.

The next morning W.J. McLean, Chief Trader for the Hudson’s Bay Company, met with Big Bear, Imasees and Wandering Spirit to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the siege. McLean and Big Bear were able to convince Wandering Spirit to let the police leave safely if the Hudson’s Bay employees gave themselves up to Big Bear. The three scouts sent out the previous day were returning to the fort when they unexpectedly came upon the Indian camp. The Indians, believing that they were being attacked, opened fire. Cowan was killed immediately; Quinn escaped, but was captured the following day; Loasby, seriously wounded, was nevertheless able to ride to safety. The negotiations at the Cree camp were concluded: while the police were allowed to escape by boat down the North Saskatchewan River to Battleford, the 44 civilians of the fort became prisoners of the Cree. Once the police had left, the fort was looted and burned by the Cree. On May 25, General Strange and the Alberta Field Force used the fort as the militia’s battle headquarters until the campaign ended in July 1885. Fort Pitt was partially rebuilt in 1886, and then closed in 1890.

Daria Coneghan