Finding Fort Whoop-Up
In the fall of 2012, the exhibit “Uncovering Secrets: Archaeology in Southern Alberta” highlighted 15 sites and features, telling human stories found under the soils and across the landscape of the area, including the original Fort Whoop-Up.
By the late 1800s, buffalo hides used for warm coats and strong industrial belts became the major item of trade on the western plains. Between 1869 and 1874, there was no official Canadian presence preventing American traders from building Forts Hamilton and Whoop-Up and trading with Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) with whiskey, guns, knives, blankets, beads, and food items in exchange for the valuable robes.
With the arrival of the North West Mounted Police in 1874, most of the whiskey traders quit the business. From 1876 until a fire in 1888 destroyed much of the fort, the Mounties rented space to use as an outpost.
The site of the forts was surveyed and excavated by archaeology teams in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The first team found the remains of a corner bastion, segments of original walls, as well as a stone-lined well. The second excavated a stable, storeroom, and living quarters, and recovered food-related artifacts and a wide variety of medicinal bottles used for personal alcohol consumption. A University of Lethbridge team verified the dimensions of the fort and found charred soil to confirm that the 1888 fire had occurred in the NWMP quarters. Excavations of the trade room uncovered buttons, ammunition, brass beads and tacks. Trenches were excavated to determine the outline of the palisade.
Much more of the story of Fort Whoop-Up has been lost to time, people and natural events. Time literally eats away at items made of leather, wood, and other organic materials. Most of the evidence of Fort Hamilton has been eroded by the Oldman River. Looting at the site has removed many more aspects of the historical evidence for this important site in our area.