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Frederick House

Frederick House

Photo by contributor Debbie Gagain and Robert Staniforth - Posted October, 2005

Frederick House

Photo by contributor Brian Bockus - Posted June, 2017

Plaque Location

The District of Cochrane
The City of Timmins
Near the site of the former post, at Barbers Bay
near Connaught, on Road 610, 17 km from Highway 101

Coordinates: N 48 37.153 W 80 54.575


Click here for a larger map

Plaque Text

A Hudson's Bay Company post named after a son of George III, Frederick House was established in 1785 to prevent Canadian fur traders in the Abitibi region from intercepting the passage of furs to Moose Fort (Moose Factory) on James Bay. Throughout its operation it encountered intense, occasionally violent competition, particularly from a rival concern on nearby Devil's Island. As a result it never flourished. After its manager, two labourers and a number of native people were murdered during the winter of 1812-13, Frederick House declined further and was no longer permanently staffed. The post was finally abandoned in 1821 when the merger of the Hudson's Bay and North West companies effectively ended the struggle for control of trade in the area.

Trading Posts

Fur Trade

Timmins Plaques

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> Posted October 20, 2016

The Massacre

In the late 1700's, and until 1821, both the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Companies were well-established rivals in the fur trade in Northern Ontario. On Mattagami Lake, (then called Matawagamingue), the North West Company's post primarily traded with Fort Temiskaming, on the east side of Lake Temiskaming in what is now the province of Quebec. Their furs were destined for Montreal.
33 miles further north on what is essentially the same body of water, at The Cache on Lake Kenogamissis, the Hudson's Bay Company had their post. Furs brought there were taken north on the Mattagami River, to a landing marker on the shore at what would become the city of Timmins. (A 60-foot white tower now stands where that marker was located.) After a series of portages, the furs were brought to another Hudson's Bay Post at Frederick House, built in 1785. Eventually, they would be taken to Moose Factory to be shipped to England.
By 1812, both Frederick House and The Cache were virtual outposts of the company and just before Christmas that year, three men left Frederick House to pick up furs and trading goods at The Cache. Alexander Belly, Robert Sabiston and Hugh Slater left the Cache on December 23 to return home. Nothing was heard from or about them until late March, 1813.
Richard Good, the commander at Kenogamissis, sent two of his men, John Knight and Charles Beads to investigate. They reported that the dwelling house, storehouse and cellars were ransacked; guns and ammunition were missing. There was no sign of the residents, nor were there any traces of the dogs, cats and poultry, but they did find corpses of an Ojibwe man and his wife. Frightened, Knight and Beads returned to The Cache at Lake Kenogamissi with the terrifying news. Good sent four men back to Frederick House to try and retrieve any furs or other valuables that may have been left behind. They returned to the Cache with Belly's journal of Post activities, which had its last entry on December 16. This indicated that Belly and his men, Sabiston and Slater had never made it back to Frederick House. The only furs left were of poor quality, casting suspicion on anyone connected with the North West Co.
Good's men found the body of Slater in the servant's house, the corpses of a Native couple and their baby in a nearby tent, the bodies of a dog and cat, but no sign of Belly or Sabiston. All the dead had been shot.
Even though there was intense rivalry between the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company, Richard Good enlisted the help of Angus Cameron at Matawagamingue (Mattagami Lake). Items such as the missing furs, red cloth, calico shirts or guns found in the possession of anyone, might lead to the identity of the murderers. Cameron did not think anyone from his company could be involved, but offered both his help and his suspicions about some Natives from Fort Abitibi, (North West Company territory) who were reported to be cannibals. However, no evidence of cannibalism had been found.
It wasn't until the end of June, 1813 that the full extent of the bloody massacre was known. It appeared that anyone who had approached the post during that winter, had been shot. The bodies of Sabiston and Belly, five more Natives and the remaining animals were discovered and buried. Still unaccounted for, were one Englishman and three children. Their bodies and other partial remains would remain undiscovered until the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway was under construction in 1911. Their shallow graves were unearthed by steam shovels.
There are no accurate records of the total number of dead in this incident, but most reports agree that there were between fifteen and seventeen. It is generally believed that the murderers were members of a family headed by an Abitibi Native, Capascoos, and his sister. They were never brought to justice.
The site at Frederick House was never permanently resettled after the massacre. Only one Ojibwe family escaped the horrific tragedy. Their family name is Buffalo, and their most famous descendant was Princess Maggie Buffalo Leclair, who died in Timmins in 1963. Buffalo Bay, on the northeast edge of Frederick House Lake is named for the family where, to this day, they have a hunt camp.

The Story Behind the Story

One only has to attend a court of law to understand how one event, witnessed by more than one person, can appear quite different to each. Such is the case of the Frederick House Massacre.One story is a result of research by Elaine Allan Mitchell, who was a graduate in history from McMaster University. In 1973, the results of her research were published in The Beaver, the official organ of the Hudson's Bay Company. Much of Mitchell's research materials were obtained from journals and archives of that company.
The other story is a verbal retelling of the event by the daughter of an Ojibwe man, Bazil Buffalo, who was there. Mary Buffalo's story was recorded by Dan O'Connor, who sent it in the form of a letter to J.B. Tyrell, author of Journals of Hearne and Turnor.
It is known that New Year's Day was a time when the Post would have been opened, in British tradition, to those who traded there. Although one story alludes to the day of the massacre as Christmas, it seems more likely that the event might have occurred a week later. The number of dead also differs in each story. The true count will never be known. Each story has the rescuers coming from different directions - one from the west, at Kenogamissis Lake, the other from the north, at Moose Factory. Perhaps they came from both.

A Survivor's Story

Mary Buffalo told this story to a Dan O'Connor in 1932, who then recorded it in the form of a letter to a J.B. Tyrell. Mary was 70 years old at the time. Her father's story would have been 120 years old. Written language was not a part of the Ojibwe culture until a type of cuneiform was devised by Roman Catholic priests. Their history was preserved by Elders passing along stories to the young. In her own words, here is Mary's story: "Two of the Night Hawk Band of Indians had gone over to Abitibi Lake Section for a visit in summer time and met some Indians there, who they invited over to spend New Years at the Hudson's Bay Post at Frederick House Lake. Three of them came over, man, wife and son. They came across from Abitibi River on Indian Trail to Frederick House Lake.
"When they got to the lake, a storm was on. They all started to cross the lake with the man and son going ahead, and wife behind. Storm got worse and the man and son reached the post, but the woman had not showed up. It stormed all night so they did not go out to look for her until morning."The man in charge of the Post went with them where they found the woman frozen stiff on the ice. They went crazy mad and blamed the Night Hawk Spirit for killing the woman and then thought it was a plan made up to kill them. They then killed the Hudson Bay Trader and went back to the Post and killed the woman who was living as wife with Trader.
"After they had killed those, they took possession of the Post which was located on a hill giving a good view of all trails to the Post. As soon as they would see anyone coming, they would get ready and shoot them coming up the hill. Then they would drag the bodies into a root house at the foot of the hill.
"In this way they continued until they were all shot. I estimate at about 25 men and no other women.
"After killing them all, they remained at the Post and lived in luxury with lots of eats and lots of rum.
"Most of the Indians killed were from Mattagami River and the wives and families were dumbfounded, not knowing what had happened, but were afraid to come over and find out.
"Only one man of the whole tribe was left living. He had not gone over to the Hudson's Bay Post for New Years. This Indian's name was Bazil Buffalo, my father. He went over some time after and saw blood on the foot of the hill and saw bodies in the root house.
"He rushed home and then went over to Mattagami River to find out if any of the Indians were home and found out none had returned from the Hudson Bay Post. He sent word to all the families about what had happened and sent word to the Hudson Bay officials at Moose Factory. They sent men and instructed them to go over to Frederick House and investigate.
"The two Indians who were at the Post all this time were keeping a sharp look out, expecting a surprise. One evening they noticed smoke at the foot of the bay near the lake and got ready at once for Abitibi Lake.
"When the party sent from Moose Factory arrived at Frederick House Lake Post, no one was there, but they saw fresh snowshoe marks and started to follow. They kept on going and saw no sign of them until they got to Conching Falls where they found hot ashes made by a fire. It was still smouldering, so they started at once to catch them, but did not see them until they got to Abitibi Lake. They started after them again, but a big storm broke out and they lost sight of them."They kept going until they got to Abitibi Post and found the Indians had not come there."After giving up the chase, it was found out afterwards by one of the missionaries that they turned north on Abitibi Lake and made for the north, giving the missionary all the details of the massacre on his death bed."
Mary Buffalo died at the age of 90, in 1952. The recorder of her story, Dan O'Connor died in 1933.
      Text by Diane Armstrong
      Submitted by Jim Spence jspence1@ymail.com

> Posted May 7, 2012
Just curious; mentioned was the "Rival Concern", on Devil's Island, which company was that (NW Company or?)? Also mentioned on the plaque were that the Manager, two labourers, and a number of Natives were murdered there in 1812; was not the Managers family murdered, and what was the number of "number of Natives", and any idea of whom? I have a real interest in local history. Thanks for the write up!!

> Posted November 24, 2009
A beautifully scenic view of the lake that bears the plaque's name. Especially interesting when the winds blow from the north, huge rolling waves crash against the shoreline next to the roadway. Almost looks like an ocean view !
Denis Gionet, Hearst, Ontario.

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