Brief History of Norway House

Norway House received its name when the Hudson´s Bay Company established a post near the outlet of Lake Winnipeg (1814) and recruited Norwegian labourers to build it. They name the new post after the Norwegian (Norway House) labourers in recognition of their exceptional building skills.

For the greater part of the nineteenth century, Norway House was the crossroads of the Hudson´s Bay Company´s inland transport and fur trade network. The port (Norway House) acted as an inland storage facility of York Factory and hosted the Northern Department Council´s annual meetings.

The emergence of Norway House as a significant post within the fur trade network became more evident when the Hudson´s Bay Company and the Northwest Company merged in 1821. It guaranteed the survival and growth of the Hudson´s Bay Company. From 1822 Norway House was increasingly used as a sub-depot and became the neck of the funnel down which poured the inland furs. Because North America is a unique land of lakes, rivers and coasts, the canoe, in its variety of forms, is a resourceful response to the environment. A canoe´s form is indicative of the region from which it originated. As the commerce of early North America grew, so did the need for canoes. The fur trade became so large that many of the canoes were used for the survival; hunting; trapping and eventually, transporting cargo (fur & goods). Canoes became a necessity during the fur trade. These canoes that fur traders used were capable of carrying a crew of up to 12 people and a cargo weighing around 2400 kilograms. Eventually, the York Boats phased out the canoes due the amount of freight the York Boat could transport. These York Boats would then carry the furs north through and from Norway House to York Factory and thence to England.

They were called York Boats because their most common destination was York Factory. First built in Albany Fort in the 1740´s, the York Boat was based on an old Orkany design that in turn derived from Viking long-ships. The York Boats were built from spruce logs, which were selected with care, to ensure it could withstand the stresses of running rapids. Repeated beaching and the rough lake crossings. Propelled by six or eight oarsmen working twenty-foot oars and steersmen, the York Boats were a sight to behold when traveling in a brigade.

Many Cree hunters, fishermen, trappers and gatherers became employed with the Hudson´s Bay Company as trippers, dog team mushers and canoe freighters until the middle 1900´s. We remember one of the greatest Indian athletes of Canada who worked with Hudson´s Bay Company. The athlete was born and raised in Norway House. He participated in many prestigious races in their time all across Canada and parts of Europe. His greatest achievement and contribution for Norway House and all of Canada were in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in Sweden. It was at the time he also shook hands with the King of Sweden. That man is Joe Keeper and we remember him during the Joe Keeper Memorial Marathon during our annual Treaty & York Boat Days.

Today the Archway Warehouse, the jail and the ruins of the powder magazine, along with our Annual Treaty & York Boat Days festival are the only reminders of the past significance of Norway House in the fur trade and in the development of western Canada. Currently, we are in the process of initiating a project to develop a museum in Norway House interpreting its historical contribution to the development of our nation. The Archway Warehouse was constructed in 1840-1841 and is the oldest surviving warehouse in western Canada where Red River frame construction was employed. Additionally it is the oldest log structure in Manitoba remaining at its original location. The powder magazine, built in 1837-1838 also predates any other stone structure of this type in western Canada. The jail, built in 1855-1856, is the earliest surviving lockup in the province.