Old Fort Nelson (Tthek’eneh Kúe) Warden’s Cabin
The Old Fort Nelson (Tthek’eneh Kúe) Warden’s Cabin is associated with two historic themes of relevance to the Alaska Highway Corridor nomination:
♦ Ten thousand years of human presence
♦ Half century of continuity and accelerated change
Description of the Site
Old Fort Nelson – also known as Tthek’eneh Kúe – is located east of the current City of Fort Nelson, and is a historic landscape that has evolved from a seasonally populated site, into a trading post, and then into a village. The former game warden’s cabin is located at Old Fort Nelson along with the old Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Mission and residence, a cemetery, and various private residences.
Tthek’eneh Kúe (Old Fort Nelson) has been a gathering place for generations of people traveling between northeastern BC, Yukon, and the Mackenzie. The area has witnessed rapid economic transformation resulting from trapping in the 1920s, and the construction of the Alaska Highway and its airport and military base in 1942-43, but its history is much older.
Several trading posts were established in the area to support trade with Dene, Cree, Dane-zaa, and Tse’Kene beginning in 1805, with a North West Company post built at Nelson Forks, where the Fort Nelson River meets the Liard River. This was known as the first Fort Nelson. The post was later moved further up river, marking the second Fort Nelson, which burned in 1813. In 1865, the third Fort Nelson was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company on the west bank of the Nelson River until it was destroyed by a flood in 1890, resulting in its relocation across the river to Tthek’eneh Kúe – the fourth Fort Nelson. Fort Nelson’s fifth and final relocation took place during the 1940s, across the river to the west, with the construction of the Alaska Highway and Northwest Staging Route airfield. This is the current location of the City of Fort Nelson.
The Warden’s Cabin at Tthek’eneh Kúe is associated with the broader story of the imposition of a new, private-property approach for trapping in BC. Ethnographer Hugh Brody’s work, Maps and Dreams, provides a clear explanation about how the registration system altered relationships between First Nations and newcomers in multiple ways. The system also exposed problems inherent in the wording and intentions of Treaty 8, and allowed newcomers access to lands and resources that First Nations in the region needed for their own livelihoods.
The game warden, whose position was established in January 1927, also served as a general administrator and as police. John Seymour Clark arrived in 1928 and spent the next ten years at Tthek’eneh Kúe serving as a policeman and game warden with Archie Gairdner and, later, Baptiste Villeneuve. Together they recorded births, deaths, issued relief rations, enforced laws, issued licences, revised maps, and performed various official functions and aided local First Nations and trappers in emergencies. Constable Clark also played a role in the documentation of Dene Tha trapping and land use in northeastern BC in the 1930s.
In addition to the Game Department, Old Fort Nelson was also home to the area’s Post Office, Hudson’s Bay Company store and the Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Mission. In 1943, the first day school, known as the River School, was built at Old Fort Nelson. However, with the development of the fifth Fort Nelson during the Second World War, people slowly began to leave Tthek’eneh Kúe. By 1967, the school and Hudson’s Bay Company store had closed.
Also see our History of the Alaska Highway Corridor for more information on how the construction of the Alaska Highway and Northwest Staging Route impacted northeastern British Columbia.
Existing Heritage Recognition
On 7 December 2010, the Fort Nelson First Nation and the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality entered into a Memorandum of Understanding recognizing the importance of the Tthek’eneh Kúe/Old Fort village to the local communities and the need to protect the site from industrial development. Fort Nelson First Nation has also documented the village site and its surrounding network of trails for many cultural, economic, and environmental assessment reasons.