Yorkton's Early Story

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Fort Ellice
An Oasis for Early Yorkton Settlers

By the summer of 1882, there were a total of 14 settlers at York Colony from Ontario and England. While they all cooperated to help clear land and build shelters, only Cosmo J. McFarline, William H. Meredith, William Hopkins and Edward Hopkins stayed behind to spend the winter of 1882-1883, the others to return in the spring.

As can be imagined it was a lonely existence for the four men; two from Ontario and two from England—none of them experienced in wilderness camping. They were housed in a log shack with a sod roof. Their articles of food for the winter were: flour, oatmeal, syrup, some dried apples, and a small quantity of salted pork.

The Native people of the area helped them to survive, according to the Hopkins brothers’ great niece, Nancy Morrison. By spring they were out of supplies. There were few places to go. Fort Qu'Appelle was not known to them, nor was Fort Pelly. However, they were familiar with Fort Ellice having passed there on their way to York Colony the previous year. They set out in oxen driven carts, following the old Carleton Trail–a super highway of the plains in those days, which stretched from Winnipeg to Edmonton, and beyond.

Fort Ellice was a Hudson Bay Post dating back to 1831 situated on the banks of the Assiniboine River, near present day St. Lazare. It was an important depot and distribution centre during the fur trading days, as well as in the 1870s during the settlement of that part of Manitoba. It was also impressive in appearance, situated in the valley with a magnificent view. For decades, it had been a bustling place with the long trains of freighter wagons making their way in various directions. By 1882, for a fare of .10 cents per mile, a traveller could board a stage coach leaving every Tuesday from Winnipeg for Fort Ellice.

What articles our colonists purchased at the Fort is not recorded. However, the depot offered shoppers hardware, utensils, implements, dry goods, canned goods, groceries, ammunition, fish hooks, meats and bibles.