Old Fort William

Old Fort William is not a town – it is an historical site in the vein of Ste-Marie-Among-the-Huron, except that it focuses on the fur trade rather than a Jesuit mission.Old Fort William is a recreation of a North-West Company fur trading post that existed at Thunder Bay in the 1800s.  People there are costumed, play specific roles, and make minor attempts to speak in 1815 accents.  The level of commitment to their characters varies, but that’s what makes it most fun – some are really into it, while for others it’s quite simply a summer job.

During my visit, the committed outnumbered the uncommitted.  How did I find this out without talking to each and every staff member? Well, no word of a lie, each and every costumed staff member, save for one, approached me at some time in my two hours there. In full accent and character. And not just to ask me not to walk on the newly-sodded lawn. They were actually into it. From a bunch of 16 and 17 year-old’s, that’s what I call enthusiasm.

And as for the one historical interpreter who failed to approach me on his own, well, apparently he was pretty into it too. As I found out, when I asked him how far Rainy River was from Thunder Bay.

The teenage interpreter responded that “he had never heard of such places.

Having caught on to his character-induced ruse, I smiled and asked how long it would take me to get to Rainy River.

He responded that “he had not heard of such places, but that it took multiple days paddle to get to Rainy Lake, depending on the weather.

This time I flat out asked him how long. It would take. To drive. To Rainy. River.

He responded that “he did not understand drive.  To drive a plow to a Rainy Lake?  That would be impossible! What could I want with a plow at Rainy Lake. Was I going there to trade?

Knowing the only thing I had to trade was a nasty hand gesture, I walked away.

Evidently this was one guy who didn’t see the golf cart shuttle that ferried visitors between the gift shop and the fort. Nor had he questioned why I had a digital camera or just how the grass was kept so golf-course-like short.  Another slightly less dedicated fort guy (if you can call wearing hides and furs and skins in the searing summer heat as “less committed”) eventually helped me.

Entrance to Old Fort William is about 14$, 12$ if you’re a student, and takes about two hours.  There’s fair amount to see, especially in the summer with the canoe rides and the farm.  It’s well worth it.  Every year the fort used to host “Rock the Fort,” a musical festival hosting some of the biggest names on the small-to-medium summer music festival circuit in Canada (believe me, I know, my hometown has one every year as well) such as April Wine, Trooper, Burton Cummings, and others.

11 thoughts on “Old Fort William

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  4. there used to be a ferry that left from the harbor in north Thunder Bay called the “Welcome Ship” (I believe it lives on somewhere in Quebec now) but it used to be a tour of the town from Lake Superior and up the Kam river, all the way up to Old Fort William. The people at the fort would fire the cannons to signal that a ship was coming into port. Great memories from class trips on that ship and at the fort (first time I tried bannock)

  5. I travelled from fort atkinson, wisconsin in 1964 with explorer
    scouts like myself it was old buildings and alittle rundown. i am glad to see it has been restored. i passed thru in bad weather in 1959 but we never stopped. i love ontario especially lake of the woods and
    whitewater lake. i am a friend of the late wendell beckwith[the hermit of best island]. thanks, michael b. camp. fremont, neb.

  6. unfortunately, Rock the Fort hasn\’t been around for a few years.. there\’s always a bit of a push (facebook) to get it back, but nothing yet…

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