Fort Churchill Post
Two years after the destruction of Prince of Wales Fort in 1782, the Fort Churchill trading post was re-established at its original location, eight kilometers up the Churchill River. However, disease and the two year absence of trade had a major impact on the Hudson Bay Company’s primary trading partner in Churchill, the Chipewyan Dene.
This decline was further enhanced by increasing use of inland trading posts and a shift in European demand away from fur. By the early 1900s, the Fort Churchill post consisted only of a few buildings and a small contingent of RCMP staff, HBC employees, the Anglican Minister along with the resident Dene hunters and their families. Inuit and a few trappers would travel south to trade with the post but generally Fort Churchill was now drifting along into obscurity.
Then, in 1927, the Government of Canada re-routed the Hudson Bay Railway to the Churchill River and grain-shipping facilities were now to be built in Churchill, not Port Nelson. Through the winter of 1928, Linn Tractors dragged equipment, housing and workers to Churchill. By spring, this sleepy HBC outpost became a flurry of activity as almost 200 men worked dredging the harbour, building the wharf, temporary housing and then the grain elevators themselves.
With the construction of port facilities and railway on the east side of the Churchill River, the original location was abandoned in 1933 and many of its buildings moved across the river to the new townsite. Buildings were towed across the river during the winter; towed by the ever-present Linn Tractor, and even some smaller outbuildings moved by dogteam. The most visible remnant of this move is the Anglican Church in the northeast corner of the community.
After sleeping for 150 years, Churchill would enter a turbulent boom and bust cycle, that continues today. The Port of Churchill would start off strong only to ebb and flow over the years, going from a high of 750,000 tonnes in 1977 to its near closure in the late 1980s and its eventual lease to American company, Omnitrax in the 1990s.
Military would arrive in 1942 and be a major presence in the community for twenty years. Their withdrawal in the mid-1960s would lead to community redevelopment and the construction of the Town Centre Complex, changing the landscape of Churchill proper forever. Polar bear tourism would start developing in the community in the late seventies and remake Churchill as a world-class tourism destination.