Friday, September 7, 2012

O Canada! Old Fort William: September 2, 2012

We skipped the opportunity to visit Grand Portage National Monument in lieu of going to Old Fort William.  Both are 'living history' museums, in which we could learn all about life on the frontier.  Old Fort William had the added exoticism of being Canadian.

Joe on the way in to the fort.  The hot oil-pouring gatekeeper must have been on break.

Fort William was a fur trading fort from the first part of the 19th century.  Not only did trappers and other frontiersman visit, trade, and stay at Fort William; the fancy pants stockholders and executives of the North West Company also stayed there.  It was actually kind of interesting to see the differences in how they lived at the Fort.  The company men were housed in relative luxury: their own bedrooms with wood stoves; the trappers stayed in bunkhouses.  There were huge four-poster beds in the luxurious rooms, the bunks in the bunkhouse couldn't have been more than five feet long.  Joe's legs would have hung off the end of the bed at the knees.

In addition to bunkhouses, we visited...
  • the infirmary, complete with 'dead body' of a trapper who died of a 'venereal disease'
  • the kitchen, where we chatted with a history player who told us all about food at the fort.  They had a snazzy counter-weight system that would turn an animal on a spit in front of the fire, instead of someone having to sit there and turn it.  They also had coffee (!!!).  I asked about it - where did they get coffee in 1803??? - and she said that it came from Jamaica and took five years to get to the Fort.
  • The gaol, which had a recording of a man coughing and pounding on the wall of the furthest back cell.  Joe was freaked out by the coughing and pounding, and wouldn't go down to the back cell without me.  
  • The First Nations Encampment outside the fort, where we met with history players who had just started the cookfires for the day.  That's where we saw the first of the many furs we would see that day.
  • There was a huge garden onsite.  It's coming up to the end of the season, so most of it had been harvested already.  But it was clear that it would have fed quite a lot of people that stayed at the fort.
Oh yes.  The furs.  I suppose we should have expected it - it was a FUR TRADING FORT, after all.  But yeah, we saw a lot of dead animals.  There were whole buildings full of them.

Wolves, raccoons, mink, foxes, and (of course) beaver pelts.  Furry critters everywhere lived in fear of Fort William.

We stopped and chatted with some more of the history players.  The Coopersmith (barrel maker) was particularly interesting.  My grandfather was a coopersmith and - sadly - I knew next to nothing about how a barrel was made.  Now I know a little bit more about it.  

We also met a fellow who was spending the morning throwing axes at a stump.  Joe and I hovered until he asked if we would like to give it a try.  A small crowd gathered as Joe took the axes and stared down the stump.  Then he let the axe fly...and I snapped a great picture of the axe flying through the air:

Joe defends himself against the stump by throwing an axe at it

He was great!  Joe is a natural at things like this.  

We also visited the canoe shed, which was of particular interest to me.  I love canoeing and love canoes.  These were amazing: a dozen men could sit in them - along with hundreds and hundreds of pounds of furs.  Trappers and other frontiersmen traveled deep into the woods of Canada in these canoes. Now I want a canoe again.

Daddy, I want a boat like this!  A beautiful paddle boat, that's what I want.

My favorite canoe picture was the one that looked like a scared (or vicious?) porcupine.  We saw another stylized porcupine once before - on a bench in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan.  I wonder if we'll come across another porcupine on our next Big Trip.

Porcupine Canoe in Thunder Bay

Porcupine Bench in Keweenah Peninsula, Michigan

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