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Kamloops History: The many forts of the 19th century

There were five of them and one lasted for less than a year.

People often wonder about the history and location of the forts of Kamloops.

There were five of them and one lasted for less than a year.

The first fur traders who ventured to Kamloops in 1811 returned the following year. It was David Stuart of the Pacific Fur Company, an American-based enterprise, who made the decision to build a fort at Tk’emlúps, based on the plentiful fur resources and willingness of the Secwépemc people to trade.

The exact location of the American fort is not known, but it is probable, according to the testimony of some elders interviewed in the 1930s by historian F. Henry Johnson, that the first fort was situated on the south side of the South Thompson River, across from Tk’emlúps.

Another theory is that it was located near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, where it could be seen when approaching Tk’emlúps along the South Thompson River. Either way, it was named Fort She-wap, but was short-lived because of the War of 1812.

A few weeks after Stuart established the American post in September 1812, the Canadian rivals, the North West Company under Joseph La Rocque, built a second fort alongside it. It was named Fort Thompson.

When the Pacific Fur Company was taken over by the North West Company just a year later, in 1813, the North West Company fort likely remained in place.

We know for certain, though, when the North West Company was taken over by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821, a third fort was established on the northeast side of the river junction and called Thompson Rivers Post. It was located south of present St. Joseph’s Church and cemetery on the reserve.

Drawing of Fort Kamloops by F. Henry Johnson from a painting by John Tod. This shows the fort after it was relocated to the North Shore in 1843, providing a close-up view of the colour sketch by A.C. Anderson. - ritish Columbia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 1, July 1937, No. 3: 171.

This fort lasted until chief trader Samuel Black was killed by a nephew of Chief Tranquille in February 1841.

Black was generally disliked by the Secwépemc, although the fort was close to the Tk’emlúps village.

When chief trader John Tod arrived after Black’s death, he found the fort, “at least the Store & dwelling house, locked up, but guarded by Lolo [St. Paul], who had passed the summer here with his wife and family.”

It seems that Black did not care much about the fort’s upkeep. Tod stated, “The buildings have apparently been in a long state of decay and notwithstanding the props by which they are supported, are fast tottering to the ground.”

When Tod took over, a decision was made to remove the fort from the village site and relocate it to the west side of the river. Its location was somewhere south of what is known as Fort House on Kamloops’ North Shore, although there is no connection.

The fourth fort took a long time to complete, but on Oct. 11, 1843 Tod wrote, “The last of the property was crossed over… and shortly after I left the old Fort, I hope for ever…”

A small house for Lolo and his family was built at the former site.

From descriptions in the HBC journals, we know this fort had a palisade, a corner bastion and several buildings, including a dwelling house (for the manager), a store, a men’s house, a kitchen, a horse stable and a small building for calves.

The logs were obtained up the north river and floated down to the site.

Many Secwépemc people were employed during the construction. Women carried mortar from the old site, crossing the river in canoes.

They also hoed the ground around the fort for growing potatoes and hay.

The fort also became an important centre for raising horses, needed for the brigades that transported fur bales south through the Okanagan to the Columbia River to waiting ships at Fort Vancouver.

Trade goods were brought back to Kamloops and sent to other posts to the north.

The location of the fifth fort was on the south side of the river junction, at the present turn-off to Mission Flats. The Overlanders of 1862 arrived just as the post was being constructed and Augustus Schubert got work there. By this time, the fort did not need a palisade or bastion for protection. More than a fur trade post, it served the needs of miners entering the area in search of gold.

When the Canadian Pacific Railway was built through Kamloops in 1885, it ran just past the fort. The Hudson’s Bay Company moved to the centre of the growing town that year and the era of the fur trade was essentially over.

Ken Favrholdt is a freelance writer and historical geographer. He was formerly curator/archivist of the Kamloops Museum and Archives. To comment on this or other History columns, email