Annually, in the first week of August since 1973 the Norway House Cree Nation hosts the Treaty & York Boat Days. A summer festival that relives the community's history during the time of the fur trade and the accomplishments that resulted from the "will to succeed in life." These are symbolized in the famous and living icon enshrined in the community on the banks of the Nelson River.
Our celebration honors those Cree, Metis and European settlers that carved out the community during a time when survival depended on an iron will and steady determination. The World Championship York Boat Races pays homage to the strength through determination of contestants from all over Manitoba and neighboring Provinces / States, who take it upon themselves to heave and thrust fifty pound oars in an effort to claim supremacy in the races. Sweat, calluses, and aching limbs are reminders of the tremendous stamina required to propel the mighty York Boat. "The race is part of our history. In the past, you had to be in good shape to take these boats from York Factory, filled with supplies and furs, to Norway House and on to markets in the South. In those days, there were routes along the mighty Nelson River and many times rough sailing on Lake Winnipeg. Today the race is a strong reminder of how hardy out people were." Treaty & York Boat days is a rich and many-colored showcase that highlights the culture of the Norway House Cree and welcomes people from all over the world to join in the celebration.
Norway House Information
The Norway House Cree Nation is 450 air kilometers north of Winnipeg at the intersection of the Nelson River and Playgreen Lake. Norway House consists of approximately 124,219 acres. The language of the Norway House Cree Nation is Cree and English.
Based on the Norway House Cree Nation membership office, the population as of December 31, 2004 was 6,019; the band has an on-reserve population of 4,460 and an off-reserve population of 1,559.
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.