From Canadian Rivers Heritage... Rivers provided important routes of trade, transportation and communication for Aboriginal peoples in Canada for thousands of years. A multitude of archaeological sites along the Hayes, containing artifacts and remnants of an earlier way of life, shows that this river was a busy waterway long before the fur traders arrived. The Painted Stone Portage, a sacred place of worship, and pictograph sites are further testimony to the antiquity of human activity along the river.
The arrival of renegade fur trader and “coureur de bois” Pierre Esprit Radisson in the mid-1600s heralded the beginning of a new way of life for Aboriginal peoples on the Hayes River and throughout western Canada. Several key Hudson’s Bay Company posts were established along the Hayes as the fur trade became established as Canada’s first industry. York Factory, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s principal fur trade depot at the mouth of the Hayes, was the Company’s centre of operations for over 200 years.
York Boats, used to carry settlers, furs and cargo to and from Canada’s early settlements, have come to symbolize the Hayes River. Evidence of this historic era can be seen along the route– grave sites, trapper’s cabins, the ruins of Hudson Bay Company outposts, rock-log dams and the remnants of a tramway on the Robinson Portage.
The Hayes River route was also key to inland exploration and commerce by Europeans. Many of Canada’s great explorers traveled the Hayes, including Henry Kelsey, the first European to see the Canadian prairies; David Thompson, who mapped out huge areas of previously unsurveyed territory in western Canada; and Samuel Hearne, renowned for his legendary journeys through the barren lands.
Other important figures to journey the Hayes include Hudson’s Bay Company surveyors Peter Fidler and Philip Turnor, the legendary explorer Sir John Franklin en route to the ‘Polar Seas’, and famous surveyor J.B. Tyrrell, of the Geological Survey of Canada. National Historic Sites have been designated by the government of Canada at York Factory and Norway House to commemorate their significance in history of Canada.
Today, the Swampy Cree, descendants of the original inhabitants of the area, live in this region of northern Manitoba. Hunting, fishing and fuelwood cutting provide subsistence for area residents. Trapping and, in some areas, tourism are important economic activities. Stops along the route at Norway House and Oxford House can provide a special opportunity to view historic buildings, meet local residents and experience today’s way of life in a northern community.
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