Along the North Saskatchewan River, traders from two rival companies set up rival posts in 1799.
The North West and Hudson Bay companies traded with nine Aboriginal groups during the 76 years the forts were active. Explorer David Thompson used the North West fort as a base for his operations in finding a pass across the Rocky Mountains.
Although the forts are long gone, their legacy lives on. The town that was established at the confluence of the North Saskatchewan and Clearwater rivers is named Rocky Mountain House after one of the forts. Today, a history site helps tell the story of fur trading in what was to become west central Alberta.
At the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site of Canada, groups will find living history interpretation, outdoor recreation and even a puppet show detailing the accomplishments of Thompson’s expedition.
Site interpreters, local Métis people, puppeteers and others all help to bring the Rocky Mountain House story to life. Interpretive exhibits, nature trails, abundant wildlife and a display herd of bison make this an interesting place to explore.
The site, open daily from the Long Weekend in May to Labour Day, is located just west of the town of Rocky Mountain House on Highway 11A. It’s centrally located 2½ hours from Edmonton and Calgary. Red Deer is an hour to the west, and Banff is three hours away.
Special rates are available for large groups and commercial groups, and customized programs require an hourly fee. However, groups can join in regularly scheduled interpretive programs without paying any extra fee.
When the weather is warm and the historic site swings into full gear, visitors can enjoy any number of activities. Park staff lead guided walks, explaining the history of Rocky Mountain House and its fur-trading roots. At the visitor center, groups can find exhibits, films and a replica trade room to try on period costumes.
Visitors should stop and see what’s happening with the daily demonstrations. Partners from the Métis Local 845 welcome visitors to the Trapper’s Tent, telling stories of their ancestors, leading traditional skills demonstrations and operating walk-in living history tents and a tepee camping experience on the North Saskatchewan River.
Groups also may have the chance to meet a company clerk in the Exhibit Trade Room, see crafters work on intricate porcupine quillwork and learn about the instruments Thompson would have made used to create maps.
The explorer’s accomplishments were no small feat. He mapped millions of miles of mountains, rivers and other varied landscapes. The light-hearted puppet show, staged by the Confluence Heritage Society, highlights his achievements.
The interpretive Chimney Trail circles through the archaeological remains of both forts, while the David Thompson Trail follows the river.
Chimney Trail is wheelchair-accessible, and the Thompson Trail is partially accessible. Both have audio stations and gorgeous views.
A stroll through the site also offers the chance to see a York boat, Red River cart and the canoe that represented Alberta in the 1967 centennial race from Rocky Mountain House to Montreal.
Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site