Fort William Historical Park is a recreation experience in Thunder Bay, Ontario that takes visitors back to the days of Voyageurs and the North West Company.
The life of Ontario’s early settlers and Indigenous people was epic. Explorers trekked through unforgiving forests, Voyageurs paddled thousands of miles along dangerous, uncharted routes, all to collect and trade the prized furs that helped shape Canadian history. It was a time of wild conflict and crazy adventure. And Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario brings that world to life so that you can experience it for yourself.
Fort William, Ontario was the centre point of the North West Company’s fierce push to compete with the fur trading routes of the Hudson Bay Company. The hands-on experiences of this recreation village covers every angle from the elite businessmen nestled safely within the walls of the compound to the Voyageurs and Ojibwe Nations that guided them.
What Is Fort William Historical Park?
Fort William Historical Park is a recreation village in Thunder Bay that takes visitors back in time to the year 1816 at the site of Fort William, a North West Company fur trading outpost. Throughout the sprawling property are the fort itself, a nearby settlers village, an Ojibwa encampment, and dozens of Scottish fur traders, farmers, local Indigenous people, and French Canadian Voyageurs living the raw life of frontier Ontario.
The park also has an excellent visitor’s centre and museum that, beyond being beautifully designed, also offers an in-depth view into the history behind the real Fort William and how it shaped the growth of life on the north shore of Lake Superior.
The park, which runs from Victoria Day weekend until late September also contains the David Thompson Astronomical Observatory which holds one of the largest telescopes in Central Canada. The park also hosts a vast campground and RV park popular with those road-tripping through Ontario’s north
Things To Do At Fort William Historic Park
Fort William Historic Park is a huge property. Luckily there is a shuttle that takes guests from the Fort William Visitor Centre to
Fort William Visitor Centre
Fort William Visitor Centre is where the action of this Ontario historical experience starts. This is where you purchase or present your tickets to start your activity. I recommend starting your visit with the exhibits tunnel where you can see first-hand, reproductions of artifcacts from the days of the fur trade. You can also watch videos that talk about the exciting history of Fort William and the characters that lived there.
The visitor’s centre also has a gift shop and cantina that serves up an excellent selection of traditional and Indigenous-inspired food.
The Voyageurs and fur traders would likely never have survived if it weren’t for the local Indigenous Peoples who acted as guides through the dense wilderness of Canada’s Boreal forest. At the Indigenous Encampment you can meet with members of the Ojibwa Nation in a birch bark wigwam and experience traditional handicrafts and foods.
Paddle Into The Past
This 20-minute canoe tour of the Kaministiquia River can be booked at the Visitors centre. Along the way guests will learn about Voyageur history, discover the history of the local First Nations, and experience what the paddling journeys of the fur traders was like.
The Voyageurs were a hard-working, hard-partying crew. And their reputation preceeded them. As such, these wild and crazy guys were not allowed into Fort William itself. Here you’ll experience what the raucous life of the Voyageurs was like between their epic paddles along Ontario’s waterwarys.
The largest part of the Fort Williams Historical Park experience is the recreation of Fort William itself. Here you’ll find everything from the trading post, the kitchen, the living quarters of the elite, and everything that made life in this Thunder Bay fur trading post possible.
Here you can check out the stacks of furs and learn how they were shipped up and down the waterways. You can even visit a jail and hear the stories of the poor souls locked inside. Don’t miss a climb up the observatory where you can get sweeping views of the fort.
You can also find a restaurant in the Fort that serves up a great selection of sandwiches and local treats.
From gardens to livestock, you’ll find it all right next to Fort William. You can meet with the local farmers and learn how they helped sustain the year-round living of this town, even during the long winter months when it was cut off from outside contact by unforgiving snow and wind.
Make a visit to the Dairy House and try your hand at milking a cow or meet with the friendly goats and pigs who wander the grounds.
There is both non-serviced and serviced campsites available at Fort William Historical Park. And if you didn’t bring your own gear, you can even rent one of their on-site RVs that come complete with a kitchen, dining area, and can sleep up to 6 people. The Fort William campground has picnic areas, WiFi, and offers access to the gift shop and on-site restaurant. You’re also just minutes away from some of the best Thunder Bay restaurants.
Getting To Fort William
Fort William is located just a few mintues away from Thunder Bay International Airport and just 30 minutes north of the border with the United States. You can reach the fort by following HWY 61 north. Turn left on Broadway Avenue and follow the road.
Now It’s Time to Experience Fort William Historical Park For Yourself
Fort William is an awesome way to experience Ontario history while having fun at the same time. Many of these local businesses and restaurants are anxious for visitors after a tough year. So let’s support local and make the most of your Blue Mountains adventure.
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Kevin Wagar is a founder and editor of Ultimate Ontario. He has been working in the travel media industry since 2015 when he founded his family travel website Wandering Wagars – Adventure Family Travel.
Over the years Kevin has developed a deep love for his home province of Ontario and aims to showcase the incredible experiences and amazing small businesses found within it.