I participated in a wonderful learning event on August 28, 2013, organized for employees in the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport. Thank you to the organizers of the half-day event! We went to the Condie Nature Refuge first and then made our way to Last Mountain House Historic Provincial Park. Condie is very close to Regina and is a great site for families to spend a half-day picnicking and even fishing. But, I have to admit that Last Mountain House was the site that I was really interested in visiting. The Royal Saskatchewan Museum played a large role in the excavation of the site during the 1960s and the organization of the project, with many volunteers, led to the formation of the Regina Archaeological Society which is still going strong in 2013.
The original buildings of Last Mountain House were put up in 1869 to function as an outpost for the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) out of Fort Qu’Appelle. The HBC was still collecting furs as the nineteenth century wound down. Four buildings made up the original post, three of which have been recreated and filled with historic items of the day. There was also an underground icehouse which we did not get to see because it was locked. By 1869, the mighty herds of bison that once roamed through much of North America were disappearing at an alarming rate. People who came west to participate in the fur trade or to make new lives for themselves were beginning to feel the lack of bison as a source of food. Lack of wood out on the plains was also a problem and the lack of wood and bison were already noted eleven years earlier, in 1858, by HBC employees in the Fort Qu’Appelle area (Klimko and Hodges 1993:8-9). The Last Mountain House post, located on the bluffs overlooking the southeast end of Last Mountain Lake, was close to sources of wood and bison and was set up to bring in robes and pemmican from the local Native population living in the area (Klimko and Hodges 1993).
We often do not hear about women in the fur trade history as the trade was carried out by men. There were Métis women at Last Mountain House, partners of the Métis men employed at the post. All worked together at various tasks to run the post (Klimko and Hodges 1993). They had an active social life with other Métis people living in the area at that time (Klimko and Hodges 1993). The interior of the buildings today reflect the necessities of life for people in the latter 1800s. I marveled at the small but very high bunk beds. Stone fireplaces were an important feature for cooking and heating the small log structures. For all the work that went into building the post, it only ran for three years, or so. This site presents an important view of Saskatchewan’s fur trade history that everyone should see. It is a great reproduction that sweeps you back to the past, to see and think about what life was like for newcomers and Métis in the Great Plains region.
Before, or after your visit to the Last Mountain House Historic site, visit the Royal Saskatchewan Museum’s First Nations Gallery to get a view of what life was like for First Peoples living in this region when all the fur trade people and other newcomers came west. While many diseases came with the newcomers and decimated many First Peoples populations, there were survivors throughout the Saskatchewan landscapes, all desperately trying to continue living the way they had for millennia. As times changed, their nomadic lifestyles changed forever.
For further reading on the Last Mountain House Post, see:
1993 Klimko, Olga and John Hodges. Last Mountain House: A Hudson’s Bay Company Outpost in the Qu”Appelle Valley. Western Heritage Services, Inc., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.