Historic Sites of Manitoba: Cape Merry / Fort Churchill (Churchill)
Cape Merry has a wealth of history and natural beauty. It was once called Knight’s Round Point, as befits the land bounded by the Hudson Bay and the Churchill River. James Knight sailed into the mouth of the Churchill River to begin construction of a fur trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1717. The cape was later renamed to honour Captain John Merry, who was the Deputy Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1712-1718. A cannon battery was constructed to guard the river and the river mouth, and to prevent enemy occupation at Cape Merry, by providing crossfire. You can still see the site of the first battery and the remains of a powder magazine, which still has the original limestone mortar.
In 1933, the site was added to the Prince of Wales National Historic Site, designated in 1920 by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. A nearby cairn, erected in 1920, commemorates the HBC’s Fort Churchill which, for nearly 200 years, was its most northerly post on Hudson Bay. The Danish explorer Jens Munk wintered across the river above this point in 1619-1620. In 1689 the HBC attempted to establish a post and whale fishery here, but it was only in 1717 that James Knight built a permanent wooden fort at Munk’s wintering site. Between 1740 and 1782 the company occupied the stone Prince of Wales Fort on Eskimo Point; when the French destroyed the latter, Samuel Hearne rebuilt Fort Churchill on Knight’s original site in 1783. The post operated throughout the 19th century, and with the completion of the Hudson Bay Railway in 1929, Churchill became Manitoba’s only ocean port.
Also attached to the cairn is a plaque commemorating the first Lutheran services in North America, which were conducted in 1619 at a site eight kilometres upriver by the Reverend Rasmus Jensen. He died on 20 February 1620 and became the first Protestant cleric to be buried in Canadian soil.
Photos & Coordinates
Financial support for research reported on this page was provided by Manitoba Heritage Grant 18F-H49829.
This page was prepared by Tim Worth, Christian Cassidy, and Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 16 October 2019