1795 – 1797
The First Fort
Ash House (Fort de la Frèniere, Fort of the Ash, Ash Fort or Fort Ash) was likely the first fur trading post built along the Souris River. At the time of its construction there was fierce competition among five fur trading posts, all operating in close proximity to one another near the confluence of the Souris and Assiniboine Rivers. Ash House, built in 1795, appeared just two years after the first of the Assiniboine River posts started trading. It was an attempt by the North West Company (NWCo) to gain further profit by drawing on the growing Souris basin trade, and more specifically to meet the competition of the company’s major rival, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC).
Location, Location, Location
Ash House was built on the north shore of the Souris as a canoe fort. The Souris River surrounded it on three sides, and in wet years a depression to the north of the fort also filled with water, making it approachable only by canoe. The Yellow Quill trail – still faintly discernible today – runs parallel to the Souris. For a fort dealing with trade, gaining proximity to this avenue of land travel and transport would have been a shrewd strategy. Also, in the vicinity of Ash House was a sandhill that may have been used as a lookout.
Ash House only operated for a year or at most a year and a half. This is possibly due to the fort’s vulnerability to attack. From about 1748 onward the Dakota were known to wage war on anyone trading on the Souris River to discourage foreigners from establishing control over trade in the area. More probably, Ash House was abandoned because of poor management or strong competition. It just wasn't profitable. In any case, when the explorer David Thompson passed through the area in December of 1797, he camped a few miles away and reported that the fort was abandoned.
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Author: Teyana Neufeld
Clarke, Lawrence B. Souris Valley Plains: A History. Souris: Souris Plaindealer Ltd., 1976.
Duncan, Hal G. The South-West Corner. Altona: Friesen Printers, 1984.
McMorran, G. A. “Souris River Posts in the Hartney District.” Papers Read Before the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba. Series III Number 5. 1949
---. Souris River Posts. Souris: Souris Plaindealer Ltd., 1948.