Tetl’it Zheh, House above the river
Traditionally the Tetlit Gwich’ in peoples of the area lived a seasonally nomadic lifestyle, moving between the mountains and the river valleys according to the seasonal hunting opportunities. The Hudson Bay Company sited a trading post here in 1858, named after their chief fur trader, Murdoch McPherson, and a community grew around it, a pattern typical of many northern settlements.
Fort McPherson is a picturesque community of 952 located on a rolling plateau between the Richardson Mountains and the Mackenzie River Delta. For years the community was accessible only by air or water and was seldom visited by tourists. But all this changed in 1978 with the completion of the Dempster Highway, the most northerly public highway in Canada. Today Fort McPherson sits on the edge of this highway, and is a popular stopping off place for the many travellers heading for the end of the road at Inuvik.
One of the three communities along the Dempster Highway, Fort McPherson is situated on a narrow slope of land that rises above the Peel River. In season the spectacular wildflowers of the area blossom purple, white, coral and mustard, accenting the low stands of evergreen, here at the northern edge of the treeline.
Nature lovers can trek along the Peel River searching out caribou, sheep, fox and wolf and canoeists can paddle the Peel on its winding route to the Mackenzie Delta. In the summer the sun never sets on Fort McPherson, but in spring and fall sunsets command centre stage as they envelop the “big” sky of Canada’s far North.
Sunsets can silhouette St. Matthew’s Anglican Church perched at the crest of the community’s sandy hill. Its single silver spire captures the visitor’s eye at once. The cornerstone of the community, St. Matthew’s is a tangible link to the past, when Fort McPherson was a regional trading centre and the Peel a fur trading route and trail to the Klondike.
St. Matthew’s Church was established in 1860 as an Anglican mission centre in a small log building. Approximately 100 years later a new church was built to serve the growing congregation in Fort McPherson. A large white cross marks the location of the first St. Matthew’s and plaques inside the new church commemorate the Whittaker family of missionaries, and the ‘Lost Patrol’.
The graveyard is the final resting place of the ‘Lost Patrol’ of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. In the winter of 1910-11, they became lost on a 765 km (475 mile) sled-dog patrol from Fort McPherson to Dawson City, Yukon, in temperatures of minus 55° (-67° F), or lower, and carrying minimal rations. They eventually turned back, but perished only 36 km (22 miles) from Fort McPherson.
In addition to arts and crafts, Fort McPherson is also well known for its canvas products. Fort McPherson Tent and Canvas (952-2179) is the hamlet’s largest private employer and is renowned for sturdy canvas travelling bags… from stylish backpacks to fashionable briefcases… and for its sturdy canvas tents. Tours of the operation can be arranged and the helpful staff will attend to your product needs.
For information, contact:
Hamlet of Fort McPherson
P.O. Box 57, Fort McPherson, NT X0E 0J0
Ph: 867-952-2428 • Fax: 867-952-2725