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Saskatchewan River History



The first whiteman to lay eyes on the Saskatchewan River, or "Kisiskatchewan" which in Cree means "the river that flows swiftly", was Henry Kelsey of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1691. In 1741, after a hiatus of 50 years, La Verendrye and his sons explored the Saskatchewan River. He selected the site for Fort Pascoyac (present day The Pas, Manitoba) and one of his sons, Louis Joseph, reached as far upstream as the forks of the Saskatchewan River.

Traditionally, the Hudson's Bay Company waited at the Bay for the Indians to bring them their furs for trade; however, the Montreal peddlars, travelling the inland waterways, had established a string of posts which were effectively cutting off the Hudson's Bay Company's supply of furs. To meet this competition, Mathew Cocking, the factor at York House, reconnoitred the Saskatchewan River in 1772. In 1774 Samuel Hearne, the greatest of the Hudson's Bay Company explorers, founded the first inland post at Cumberland House. The post, which took its name from Prince Rupert, Duke of Cumberland, has become the oldest settlement in Saskatchewan. Hearne's choice of this strategic site quickly made Cumberland House a key location and, eight years later, the opposing North West Company also built a post at Cumberland House. Today a cairn erected at Cumberland House by the Historical Sites and Monuments Board of Canada commemorates the founding of this post.

A great many important traders and explorers in the early history of the Canadian northwest passed through Cumberland House on their way to the upper Saskatchewan River, or the Churchill and Arctic watersheds. The list of names includes: Chevalier de la Corne, Anthony Henday, Peter Pond, the Frobisher brothers, Jean Baptiste Cadotte, Charles Paterson, "Franceways" (Francois Sassevillet), Alexander Henry, Peter Fidler, Peter Pangman, Alexander Mackenzie, David Thompson, William McGillivary, Simon Fraser and Governor George Simpson.

The great sternwheeler river boats came to the Saskatchewan River at about the same time that the railroad was pushed through the southern part of the Canadian prairies. Before the superiority of railroad travel spelled their doom, these bulky craft transported most of the necessities of life for the early settlers along the Saskatchewan River. The largest riverboat was the 62 metre (202 foot) "Marquis" which was built in 1882. The "Saskatchewan", owned by the Hudson's Bay Company, made many trips on the river before she was wrecked in 1907. Today the remains of another sternwheeler, the "Northcote", are in the Cumberland House Historical Park.

Other points of historic interest include the old Hudson's Bay Company gunpowder house, which is also in the park, a 1890's school building and the local museum.


Excerpt from Saskatchewan Environment & Resource Management canoe booklets.

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Modified on 25 Oct 96