Fort William, Ontario

From Academic Kids

Fort William was a city in Northern Ontario, located on the Kaministiquia River, at its entrance to Lake Superior. It amalgamated with Port Arthur and the townships of Neebing and McIntyre to form the City of Thunder Bay in January 1970. At that time it was the largest city in Northwestern Ontario.


In 1679 Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, established a trading post near the mouth of the Kaministiquia River. French authorities closed this post in 1696 because of a glut on the fur market. In 1717 a new post was established at the river mouth managed by Zacharie Robutel, sieur de la Noue. This post appears on 18th century French maps by Royal hydrographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin as Fort Caministogoyan. After the British conquest of New France, the French trading post was abandoned in favour of Grand Portage, Minnesota on the Pigeon River. By 1784 Montreal merchants and their "wintering partners" had formed the Northwest Company.

Following the signing of the Jay Treaty of 1794, the North West Company required a new midway transhipment point between their inland posts and Montreal where the partners could meet and exchange furs and supplies. In 1803 the Nor'Westers abandoned Grand Portage and established a new fur trading post on the Kaministiquia River on land acquired from the Ojibwe by written agreement 30 July 1798. The post was named Fort William in 1807 after William McGillivray, chief director of the North West Company from 1804-1821. After the union of the North West Company with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821, the fort lost its raison d'Ítre and became a minor HBC fur trading post. Although its original site disappeared under CPR railway tracks and coal piles in the 1880s, a replica of Fort William was built at Point de Meuron and is known as the Fort William Historical Park.

Two townships (Neebing and Paipoonge) and the Fort William Town Plot were surveyed in 1859-60 by the Province of Canada's Department of Crown Lands and opened to settlement. A large section of land adjacent to the Hudson's Bay Company post remained in dispute until 1875 when it was surveyed as Neebing Additional Township. Most land was acquired by absentee landowners, particularly after Confederation when the new Dominion of Canada decided that a railway to the Pacific should begin somewhere along the north shore of Lake Superior. Once the Fort William Town Plot (later known as West Fort) was selected as the eastern terminus for the Canadian Pacific Railway, and construction of the railway began in June 1875, Fort William began to grow, but very slowly. It would take the federal Department of Public Works, and later the Department of Railways and Canals, seven years 1875-1882 to build the Thunder Bay Branch from Fort William to Winnipeg.

The Ontario Legislature incorporated the Municipality of Shuniah in March 1873, an early form of regional government, comprising a vast area from Sibley Peninsula to the American border. For eight years the residents of Neebing and Neebing Additional townships battled Port Arthur residents for the Thunder Bay terminus. In March 1881 the inhabitants of Neebing and Neebing Additional petitioned the Ontario Legislature successfully to separate the southern townships from Shuniah and to create the Municipality of Neebing. By 1883-84 it was clear to all but the residents of Port Arthur that the Montreal-based Canadian Pacific Railway syndicate, in collaboration with the Hudson's Bay Company, preferred the low lying lands along the lower Kaministiquia River to the rocky shores of Port Arthur, and the Company subsequently consolidated all its operations there, erecting rail yards, coal handling facilities, grain elevators and a machine shop.

In April 1892 Neebing Additional Township and parts of Neebing Township were incorporated as the Town of Fort William. Fort William was incorporated as a city in April 1907. The City of Fort William ceased to exist at the end of December 1969.

The city's Latin motto was A posse ad essere.


  • Thunder Bay from rivalry to unity / edited by Thorold J. Tronrud and A. Ernest Epp. Thunder Bay : Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, 1995.

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