York Factory

York Factory, Man, a trading post located on the north bank at the mouth of the Hayes River and permanently established in 1684 by Gov George Geyer of the Hudson's Bay Company. It is the oldest permanent settlement in the province. Until the British were awarded possession by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, ownership shifted between France and Britain. The comte de Lapérouse sacked and burned it in 1782. Tapping the trade of the entire North-West through the Saskatchewan River system, the factory was the most important of all the HBC's posts. All goods going into the West and all furs coming out of the interior passed through York Factory and until 1774 the volume of trade there exceeded that of all the other bay posts. Trade declined after 1774, as the HBC expanded its inland operations, but it remained the principal transportation depot; and in 1821 became headquarters of the Northern Dept. After 1850, when transportation costs through the US became almost two-thirds cheaper, the factory declined rapidly in importance. It was reduced by 1870 to a coastal trading post and the local environment was not able to support the post and its population of Europeans, Métis and Indians. Forest clearance and overhunting of local game increased the cost of operating the post, while local fur returns also became marginal. York Factory's role as headquarters was terminated in 1873 and the post continued to decline until it was closed in 1957. Title was transferred in 1968 to National Historic Sites. All that remains today at the site is a small clearing, the large depot and an outbuilding. The depot was built in the early 19th century and has survived on the permafrost because of a number of engineering innovations. The large columns and beams were joined in ways to make allowance for heaving and settling and a series of drainage ditches were dug beneath the building to carry off surface water. Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of earlier structures and camping areas of the visiting Indians and the site promises a harvest of artifacts. However, the extreme climate and the encroaching river are relentlessly destroying the entire site.