1874 -1884

(author unknown)

British Columbia became a Canadian province in 187I mainly on condition that a transcontinental railway be constructed to connect east and west. The original survey of this line led from Selkirk across the Narrows of Lake Manitoba to the northern base of the Duck Mountains, west along the Swan River Valley and on to Humboldt, Battleford and Edmonton. A 132 foot right-of-way was cleared as far as beyond Battleford, with named stations at 10 mile intervals. Livingstone was one cf these stations. The telegraph line following the right-of-way was completed and in operation as far as Edmonton in 1876.

The expectation of early railway and telegraph communications with east and west was a major factor in the selection of Fort Livingstone as the headquarters of the North West Mounted Police and seat of the territorial government but there were other reason quite as valid. When the construction of the post was authorized on July 9, 1874, the only settlements of any size in Western Canada were those located at the posts of the Hudson‘s Bay Company: Fort Pelly, Fort Ellice, Fort Qu’Appelle, Touchwood Hills Post, Cumberland House, Carlton House, Fort Pitt and Fort Edmonton. Almost all were within a reasonable distance of Fort Livingstone which was located approximately 350 miles from Winnipeg, 210 from Carlton, 190 from Prince Albert, 110 from Fort Ellice, Thouchwood Hills and Fort Qu'Appelle, and 150 miles from the Saskatchewan River in the Cumberland House region.

An establishment such as Fort Livingstone also required an enormous supply of firewood to feed the 90 large Carron heaters at the post, as well as a great quantity of logs and lumber for the erection of buildings. These materials were readily available west of the Snake Creek in the immediate vicinity of Fort Livingstone. There was also abundant water, pasture and hay, and feed could be grown on good farmland within easy distance.

Considerations such as these made Fort Livingstone desirable and logical choice for the location of the North West Mounted Police Headquarters and the capital of the North West Territories under conditions as they existed in 1874. However, by 1874, the bulk of settlement shifted definitely westward when new posts and settlements sprang up in Alberta and Saskatchewan, such as Fort Macleod in 1874, followed in 1875 by Fort welsh, Fort Saskatchewan and Fort Brisebois, later renamed Calgary.

In 1876 unrest south of the border reached alarming proportions as the Indian bands of Montana rose in open rebellion to resist an attempt by forces of the United States Army to force them onto reservations. On June 25, 1876, the Sioux and Cheyenne defeated and killed General Custer and 264 of his men at the Little Bighorn in Montana but the final result of the unequal struggle could not be in doubt. By the end of 1876 some 500 men, 1,000 women, and 1,400 children had crossed into Canadian territory in the Wood Mountain area and more joined them during the winter and spring of 1877, including Chief Sitting Bull. It was a dangerous situation which clearly demanded attention and it was considered essential, therefore, to transfer the headquarters of the North West Mounted Police and most of the force to Fort Macleod. Commissioner James Macleod left Fort Livingstone on August 7, 1876, with all but a small part of “D” Troop, leaving 33 men at Swan River and another 17 men an its outposts. 251 men were being concentrated at Fort Macleod, Fort Walsh and Fort Calgary.

The changing pattern of settlement in the Canadian west also diminished Fort Livingstone’s prospects of becoming the first capital of the North West Territories. Its fate became certain on October 7, 1876, when the North West Territory Act proclaimed Battleford as the territorial capital in 1877 while Fort Livingstone was to serve as the temporary seat of Government during the interval.

Lieutenant»Governor David Laird accordingly took up residence at Fort Livingstone from November 27, 1876, to August 11, 1877 in the dwelling formerly occupied by the Commissioner of the North West Mounted Police. It was in this building that the Council of the North West Territories, consisting of Lieutenant-Governor David Laird, Stipendiary Magistrates Hugh Richardson and Mathew Ryan, and Commissioner James F. Macleod met from March 8 to 22, 1877 to conduct its First Legislative Session. Amedee F. Forget was appointed Clerk of Council. The speech from the Throne was read by Lieutenant-Governor Laird and the reply was given by Mathew Ryan. A number of bills were introduced and on the last day twelve ordinances were passed respecting the registration of deeds, control of infectious diseases, the protection of buffalo, the prevention of gambling, the prevention of forest and prairie fires, and the administration of justice.

At the conclusion of the Council Meetings most members left for the East, the Macleods returned to Fort Macleod, and Colonel Richardson made preparations to take his family to Battleford. Lieutenant-Governor Laird left Fort Livingstone on August 11, 1877, to negotiate the Indian Treaty at Blackfoot Crossing before assuming his duties at the new capital, Battleford.

After the departure of the Council members Fort Livingstone declined rapidly. The North West Mounted Police detachment was reduced to 31 men in 1877. In 1878 the post was occupied only by caretakers and only 2 men of the force were stationed there in 1879. A few men were still posted at the former headquarters in 1881 but it was abandoned the following year. In 1884 Fort Livingstone was destroyed in a prairie fire.

(from a typewritten document found in the vault at the Village of Pelly office)

Fort Livingstone National Historic Site of Canada


Fort Livingstone is a member of the family of almost 900 National Historic Sites across Canada. 

Fort Livingstone is of national significance because:

  • It was the first capital of the North-West Territories, 1876-1877; and 
  • It was the original headquarters and the first post built specifically for the North-West Mounted Police.

Fort Livingstone is located approximately 7.3 kilometres northwest of Pelly, Saskatchewan near the junction of the Snake Creek and Swan River. Built in 1874, it was the first post built for the newly-formed North-West Mounted Police and it served as its headquarters until 1876. From November 1876 to February 1878 it also served as the temporary seat of government of the North-West Territories while the new government buildings in Battleford were being constructed.

Forty-eight and a half hectares in size, it encompasses all the area originally occupied by the fort. The landscape is characterized by rocky ground interspersed by copses of poplar and hawthorn trees. Although part of the property is actively used for grazing, its isolated setting and natural environment preserves a landscape that is relatively unchanged since the 1870s. In addition to the natural landscape features, the site is also home to a garter snake hibernaculum which was present at the time the fort was established.

© Rick Kurtz 2011