The first written record of the Winnipegosis area is that of Pierre La Verendrye in 1741. His father, Sieur de La Verendrye, then at Fort La Reine (present Portage la Prairie), sent him to establish Fort Dauphin on “L’Eau-Trouble”, (our present Mossey River). In 1889, J.B. Tyrell located the ruins on the east bank, three quarters of a mile from the mouth where the Mossey River empties into Lake Winnipegosis.
The La Verendryes at the time were expanding their fur trading interests with the Indians of the west and were determined that a trading fort at the mouth of the Mossy River was of strategic advantage. In ensuing years, this location was the site of several forts built and operated by different companies, such as the Hudson’s Bay Company, the North-West Company, the XY Company and the South Men. This site is not to be confused with another fort, built later, also of the same name, located near the mouth of the Valley River on Lake Dauphin.
In addition to the Lake Winnipegosis country being rich in furs, the lake served as a waterway to the other very important fur trapping grounds, such as the Saskatchewan River system, the Churchill system and the Athabasca, the home of the richest and best furs in Canada.
As the fur trade developed, the trading forts at the junction of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers became more and more important. These forts had various names, Fort Rouge, Fort Gibraltar, Fort Douglas, Fort Garry and eventually Winnipeg. The trip by canoe from the “forks of the Red” was up the Assiniboine to Fort La Reine. A portage overland to the north brought the canoes into Portage Creek and on into Lake Manitoba. The west side of the lake was followed to Meadow Portage and across it, a distance of less than two miles, into Lake Winnipegosis. A trip of a few miles would land the traveller at Fort Dauphin on the Mossy River. From here the route followed the east side of the lake to Mossy Portage, behind Shannon Island in Muddy Bay. This portage put the canoes on Cedar Lake, part of the Saskatchewan River system.
From the Saskatchewan, access to the vast Churchill River system was by way of the Sturgeon – Weir River, north of Cumberland House. By following the Churchill upstream to Lac La Roche, entry into the Clearwater River, which drained into the Athabasca, was by way of the Methy Portage, perhaps the most difficult portage in the Canadian fur trade.
Indispensable to the efficient operation of the fur trade were the Metis, children of Scot and French fathers and Indian mothers. They paddled the canoes, packed supplies over the portages, supplied pemmican to the posts, and acted as go-between and interpreters.
- H.K. Fredrickson