Fort McPherson - A Brief History
Fort McPherson ( or Tetl'it Zheh - Town at the Head Waters) was established in 1849 when John Bell, an explorer for the Hudson Bay Company, established a trading post along the lower Peel River, four miles up from where the community of Fort McPherson is now situated.
After experiencing numerous floods the post was moved to higher ground, this post was called Peel River House but was later named Fort McPherson after Murdoch McPherson, who eventually became the Chief Factor for the Hudson's Bay Company. Fort McPherson is located on the east bank of the Peel River. The community sits on a bluff overlooking the Peel River, facing the beautiful Richardson Mountains.
The Peel River was named after Robert Peel, who had explored the large river entering the McKenzie Delta as part of the Franklin Expedition of 1826.
Fort McPherson is home to the Teetl'it Gwich'in People.
The Canadian Gwich'in People are found in the history books under the name Loucheux Indians, a French missionary imposed the term which means slanted eyes.
Anglican Missionaries later arrived in 1866. The first Anglican Missionary to reside in Fort McPherson was Archdeacon Robert McDonald, he married a local Gwich'in woman and made his home here for more than fifty years. Archdeacon Robert McDonald translated the bible into the Gwich'in language and left a strong tradition of Christianity which is still practiced today.
In 1900 the missionaries started a school. The federal school system was later started in 1946.
The first member of the Northwest Mounted Police arrived in Fort McPherson in 1903.
In the early 1900s the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) sent a patrol from Dawson City, Yukon to Fort McPherson. The patrol carried mail to the trading post in Fort McPherson. In 1911 the patrol set out from Fort McPherson back to Dawson City but never arrived. A search party was sent from Fort McPherson and a month later traces of the Fitzgerald Patrol were found near Big Wind River. All members of the patrol were found dead within twenty-five miles of Fort McPherson. The officers' bodies were recovered and buried at Saint Mathew's Anglican Church Cemetery in Fort McPherson.
In 1925 the Gwich'in people started to build cabins in Fort McPherson. These dwellings were built only as a temporary shelters to use during special gatherings. Eventually, the people settled permanently in the community.
In 1959 construction of the Dempster Highway began and the highway was complete in 1978. The Dempster is a gravel road and is open year-round. It runs from Inuvk, past Fort McPherson on its way to the highway system in the Yukon. Highway access to the community is interrupted twice a year when the Peel River Ferry shuts down in the fall, after which an ice crossing is constructed on the Peel River, and in the spring, when the spring break up of ice occurs.
Fort McPherson has a population of approximately 900. More than 80 per cent of the population is of Gwich'in descent. The economy of the community is primarily based on local businesses such as the local retail outlets, the Fort McPherson Tent & Canvas factory, a local trucking company, government services, and other private enterprises.