Founded in 1673 it is the oldest English speaking community in Ontario
Moose Factory Ontario is a small community of 2000 residents located on Moose Factory Island in the middle of the Moose River approximately 20 kilometres (12 miles) from where it empties into James Bay.
It lies directly opposite the Town of Moosonee on the left bank of the Moose River and most visitors to the area will undoubtedly visit both communities as for one, they will most likely arrive in Moosonee via the Polar Bear Express rail service or land at the small Moosonee airport. For more information visit my Moosonee Ontario page.
Moose Factory is important in the annuls of Ontario and Canadian history as it is the oldest English speaking settlement in the province. The lucrative fur trade then being dominated by the French spurred early settlement in Canada and the English wanted to carve out a piece of the action. The first forays into the industry for them were via the remote northern Hudson Bay region that had been explored in 1670-71 by Pierre-Espirit Radisson, a French explorer in their employ.
The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was formed and it set up three posts: Fort Rupert in northern Quebec and Moose Fort and Fort Albany in Ontario. Moose Fort was established in 1673 by Charles Bayly, the first overseas governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, as a means of controlling all trade and traffic along the mighty Moose River system, one of the main canoe traffic arteries in this part of the world. Trade with the indigenous Cree First Nation tribe commenced and the post immediately became extremely profitable, so much so that the French attacked and captured it in 1686.
It was re-named Fort St. Louis and remained in French hands for 10 years until re-captured in 1696 at which time all buildings were burned to the ground. The fort changed hands several more times before finally being ceded to the British in 1713 by the Treaty of Utrecht but remained abandoned.
Moose Fort was rebuilt in 1730 1.5 kilometres (1 mile) upstream from its original location in a more secure position and the fort remained an important base for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the James Bay region over the next century. In the early 1800’s HBC merged with its main rival The North West Company and there were no longer any real serious threats to the community and it expanded beyond its palisades and became known as Moose Factory.
In the early 1900’s the Canadian government established the Factory Island Indian Reserve on Moose Factory Island while at the same time another rival to HBC, the French furrier Revilion Freres, established the Moose River Post (Moosonee), on the mainland directly across the river from Moose Factory Ontario.
In 1932 the area was connected to the outside world when the railroad came to Moosonee. This dramatically changed the area as the communities were no longer remote outposts accessible only once per year via supply ship. The Hudson’s Bay Company eventually purchased all North American operations of Revilion Freres and over the course of time, dropped its fur trading operations altogether and morphed into a retailer.
The economy of booth Moosonee and Moose Factory had to change as well and today while the fur trade is still practiced by a few local people Moose Factory’s economy is mainly service based around the Weeneebayko General Hospital which provides healthcare services to the entire James Bay region, and the construction and tourism industries.
In 1967 in celebration of Canada’s centennial the Hudson’s Bay Company converted all its historic properties into an open-air museum known as Centennial Park. The company itself pulled out of Moosonee and Moose Factory in 1987 when it sold all its northern Canada operations to its former rival The North West Company. Today The North West Company continues to operate most major retail outlets in the community.
Today members of the Cree First Nation mainly inhabit Moose Factory and most of the island is part of the Moose Cree First Nation Reserve and it still has that frontier post feel. Not the easiest place to get to in Ontario for those that do take the time to complete the voyage it is like journeying to another time in history.
Getting to Moose Factory Ontario:
If you wish to travel to Moose Factory Ontario you must first get to Moosonee. Visit my Moosonee Ontario page for more information.
Once in Moosonee traveling to Moose Factory in the middle of the Moose River is dependant on the time of year you are traveling.
Water taxis can be found at most public docks in both towns. These are large freighter canoes equipped with outboard motors. The short trip across the choppy waters of the Moose River usually costs around $15 and unless you specify otherwise you will be dropped off at the hospital docks, the same place where legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh landed his floatplane in 1931.
From late December until mid-March the waters of the mighty Moose River are frozen enough to permit the annual construction of an ice road. A taxi ride can be ascertained for about $10 and you will also find the availability of many snowmobile taxis willing to take a traveler over.
Spring & Fall
As the ice is forming or breaking up neither water of ice travel is available and the only means of reaching Moose Factory Ontario is by helicopter.
Moose Factory attractions and activities
Centennial Museum Park
Without a doubt the most significant attraction in Moose Factory Ontario and a National Historic Site of Canada is the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Moose Factory Buildings.
Designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1957 and converted to an open-air museum by the company in 1967 in celebration of Canada’s centennial the complex contains several historically significant buildings and this complex alone makes Moose Factory Ontario well worth a visit.
- Staff House
Originally constructed between 1847 and 1850 it is the oldest building in the James Bay area and is the only remaining officer’s dwelling from the fur trade in Canada. Still situated in its original location it provided sleeping quarters for the company’s bachelor “officer” employees including doctors, captains, secretaries and clerks. A stark reminder of a bygone this square logged two and a half-storey building is basic and austere and constructed utilizing shipbuilding techniques.
- Staff House
- Joseph Turner House
This extensively restored one and a half storey timber framed building was originally constructed in 1863 and is the oldest surviving Hudson’s Bay Company worker’s house. Built for the family of Joseph Turner, a retired HBC trader who died in 1865. Turner is significant as he worked for the HBC at Moose Factory for 64 years. The home remained in the Turner family until it was moved to the Centennial Park Museum and acquired by the Ontario Heritage Trust.
- Joseph Turner House
- William McLeod House
A one and a half storey timber framed building originally constructed in 1890 by HBC carpenter William McLeod for his brother George, an HBC shipwright. George left with his wife in 1910 and brother William subsequently moved in. His son Herbert, an HBC labourer took ownership upon his parent’s death and lived his whole life in the home. Upon his death in 1981 he bequeathed it to the Ontario Heritage Trust and it has since been moved to its current location and extensively restored.
- William McLeod House
- Ham Sackabuckiskum House
This unique home was originally constructed in 1926 as a summer home for prominent Cree trapper Ham Sackabuckiskum and his family. Unique in its design it was one of the first homes constructed in the area that used a balloon-frame building technique other than the previously used shipbuilding techniques. It remained the home of Ham Sackabuckiskum until his death in 1960. It sat empty and facing demolition until acquired by and moved to its current location by the Ontario Heritage Trust in 1983 at which time it was subsequently restored.
- Ham Sackabuckiskum House
- The Powder Magazine
Constructed in 1865 and completed by 1866 it still stands in its original location and is the parks only stone structure. Originally part of the palisaded warehousing complex it eventually became a general storage facility.
- The Powder Magazine
- Blacksmith Shop
This small building housed the last known surviving blacksmith shop operated by the HBC. While most of its construction is dated to 1849 parts of it are dated to 1740 and thus make it the oldest surviving wooden building in Ontario, it remained in continual use from its construction date until 1934.
- Blacksmith Shop
- Hudson’s Bay Company Cemetery
A collection of 52 gravestones dating from 1802 with most marking the burial sites of local Cree inhabitants as English HBC employees usually returned to England upon completion of their contract or retirement.
St Thomas Anglican Church
Construction of this historic building began in 1864 and was completed in 1885. Part of the Anglican Diocese of Moosonee, services were regularly conducted in the Cree language until 2006. The construction is of Carpenter Gothic style but the building is no longer used as it sits in a state of significant disrepair.
Cree Cultural Interpretive Centre
Celebrating the rich cultural history of the local Mushkegowuk Cree people the centre is open during the summer months and has a number of indoor and outdoor displays portraying aspects of both past and present Cree culture.
See displays of Cree arts and crafts, photos and hunting. Cree dwellings such as askigan, shaptwan, wigwam, teepees and some tents still used today are setup and on display.
The Interpretative Centre makes for a great place to purchase a genuine handcrafted moosehide souvenir.
Tidewater Provincial Park
Located on 5 islands in the Moose River between Moosonee and Moose Factory until 2013 they were utilized mainly as a campground for hardy souls that undertook the long journey to this remote outpost in Ontario’s sub-arctic north. Now used only for day-trippers get all the information you require about this park on my Tidewater Provincial Park page.
The tributaries and waters of the Moose River are filled with trophy-sized sport fish and anglers from across the world dream of making the trip to this rugged outpost famed for its fishing.
For those wishing to drop a line from the shores of Moose Factory Island you will still have a good chance of landing a nice specimen. Species that can be landed include:
- Northern Pike
Visitors will find many camps dotting the landscape and fly-in fishing outfitters are readily available. For those wishing to go offshore contact one of the operators below in nearby Moosonee.
Claude’s Fishing & Sightseeing Tours
Phone: 705 336-3612
Polar Bear Lodge
Phone: 705 336-2345
When the Moose River freezes up from late December to early March ice fishing becomes as much a sport as it does a source of food. While the majority of locals no longer utilize ice fishing as their main source of sustenance it still provides a much welcome readily available and cost effective food source.
For visitors wishing to partake in this activity ask for information at your lodging and you will be pointed in the right direction.
There really is no hunting on the small Moose Factory Island but some of the best moose hunting in the world is to be found in the immediate region of the Moose River basin.
Outfitters operate out of Moosonee and the moose-hunting season runs from September 17th to December 15th. In addition to moose other species hunted locally include:
- Black Bear
Additionally, quite a few locals and a growing number of tourists participate in the goose hunt in both the spring and fall.
The abundance of wildlife, especially fur bearing animals, is what initially drew humans to the region and lead to the establishment of Moose Factory and little has changed over the centuries.
The Moose River basin remains for the most part an untamed wilderness teeming with wildlife. Species that can be encountered include:
- Woodland Caribou
- Black Bear
Please note that quite a few visitors to the area leave disappointed when they do not encounter a Polar Bear. While the magnificent creatures sometimes do wander into the area (extremely rare), Moose Factory really is too far south for them. Those that do pass through are most likely lost and are usually captured by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and brought to their more northern migration routes. Do not expect to see a Polar Bear.
Moose River Bird Sanctuary
One of North America’s great bird migration routes is located just north of Moose Factory at the mouth of the Moose River where it empties into salty James Bay.
The protected wetlands are known as the Moose River Bird Sanctuary and includes nearby Ship Sands Island.
This 15 sq. kilometer (6 sq. mile) parcel of tidal mudflats hosts many bird species including:
- Lesser Snow Geese
- Bald Eagle
- Peregrine Falcon
- American Black Duck
- Sandhill Crane
- Common Loon
- Greater & Lesser Yellowlegs
- Short-eared Owl
- Green-winged Teal
- American Golden Plover
- Common Snipe
- Ruddy Turnstone
- Pectoral Sandpiper
- Snow Bunting
- Black-bellied Plover
- Dabbling Duck
- Short-billed Dowitcher
- Lesser Scaup
- Lapland Longspur
- Red Breasted Merganser
They are also important breeding grounds for a number of species including:
- Northern Harrier
- Yellow Rail
- Nelsons Sharp-tailed Sparrow
- Le Contes Sparrow
- Marbled Godwit
Marine life in the estuary is also abundant and a number of sub-arctic species can be regularly spotted including:
- Beluga Whales
- White Whales
Spring and fall is the best time to see both the marine and avian species. Arrangements to get from Moose Factory Ontario to the mouth of the Moose River can be made by your accommodations provider. Please note that since these operators cater to a small group of tourists each season costs tend to be quite high.
M.V. Polar Princess
Please note that if you are researching for a trip into the area via the internet you will see much information about taking tours offered by the Two Bays Company. To the best of my knowledge they no longer seem operational, as I have tried to contact them on a number of occasions. I would recommend that you disregard any information you see or try to contact them yourself. If you do manage to contact them and I am wrong about their status please contact me so I can update my information.
The waters of the Moose River and its tributaries have long been the primary routes of transportation into the hinterlands of Ontario’s far north. In fact, Moose Factory Ontario owes its existence to the canoe as the first explorers adopted this ancient First Nations mode of transportation as a means of opening up the lucrative fur trade that proved to be so important to the local economy.
Today, canoeing/kayaking is still the preferred mode of transportation for most locals and freighter canoes are the main means of transporting most goods to the island.
For visitors, canoes can be brought on the Polar Bear Express while for some, paddling down the Moose River or one of its tributaries to finally reach Moose Factory is an adventure that is like reliving the past.
It should be noted however that the Moose Factory area is wilderness at its finest and the waters of the Moose River are quite large and can therefore prove dangerous. Care should always be undertaken.
For those that do however wish to participate in this once in a lifetime adventure there is at least one local outfitter willing to provide a glimpse into the past by offering an 143 kilometre (78 mile) adventure down the Abitibi River from Smooth Rock Falls to Moosonee just across the Moose River from Moose Factory.
As of 2013 the only camping facilities in the general area located at Tidewater Provincial Park are no longer operational. Due to cost cutting measures the Ontario government has deemed this little used park to be too expensive to operate and maintain. For more information visit my Tidewater Provincial Park page.
Moose Factory Island is one of the best places in Canada to view this spectacle. Clear skies and pollution free the northern skies gives visitors a great chance to view the Northern Lights especially in the fall but be forewarned that you are at nature’s mercy and there are no guarantees they will appear.
Cree Village Eco-lodge
With modern facilities and rooms it also has an on-site restaurant modeled after the Shabatwon, a traditional Cree dwelling. The facility is an eco-lodge and is constructed of all natural products found locally and all rooms are named after animals found in the sub-Arctic region.
The operators also provide access to locally operated tours such as canoe and snowmobile expeditions and trap-line tours. For more information contact: