Fort St. CharlesEdit profile
Coordinates: 49°21′43″N 94°58′51″W / 49.361974°N 94.980921°W / 49.361974; -94.980921
Fort Saint Charles was a secure trading post constructed in 1732, one of several western forts built under the direction of military commander La Vérendrye. An expedition led by his eldest son Jean Baptiste de La Vérendrye and nephew Christopher Dufrost de La Jemeraye built the fort near the border of present day Manitoba, Canada and Minnesota, USA, it was then the most northwesterly settlement of New France (Canada) in North America.
The previous fall La Vérendrye had built Fort St. Pierre, a small post on Rainy River. Fort Saint Charles became the more important post for both commercial fur trade and explorations directed by La Vérendrye. From here, parties explored a large section of mid-continent North America, constructed other forts, and conducted fur trading, whose revenues were critical to the economy of the colony. The first missionary and chaplain to the fort was Father Charles-Michel Mesaiger, a Jesuit priest.
On June 6, 1736 an expedition departed from Fort Saint Charles, consisting of Jean Baptiste de La Vérendrye (the eldest son) with the Jesuit missionary priest Father Jean-Pierre Aulneau and nineteen French-Canadian voyageurs. They were headed for Fort Michilimackinac. They had traveled only a few kilometres from the fort when they were attacked by Sioux, who killed all the party. The Sioux were retaliating against La Vérendrye père, whom they believed was trading guns to their traditional enemies, the Cree and Assiniboine.
The expedition members were killed on a small island. Historians have not been unable to reach consensus on its identity. After the massacre was discovered, La Vérendrye père directed that the bodies of his son and the priest, and the heads of the 19 voyageurs, be brought back for burial at Fort Saint Charles. The remains of his son and the priest were buried under the altar stone of the chapel, and the voyageurs were buried outside.
Long after the fort had been abandoned and disappeared, newly discovered historic documents helped people find its location. In 1890 Father Aulneau's letters sent to family in Vendee, France were discovered. They were translated and published in 1893 by A. S. Jones, s.j., archivist of St. Mary’s College in Montreal, as The Aulneau Collection. They contributed to the work of R. G. Thwaites on compilation and publication of the Jesuit Relations, the accounts of missionary Jesuits in New France.
Academics at St. Boniface College in Winnipeg read The Aulneau Collection, which inspired a number of expeditions to discover the old sites. By 1908 the old fort location and probable location of Massacre Island had been established.
In 1911 L. A. Prud’homme recounted the conclusions of such expeditions in the Bulletin of the Historical Society of St. Boniface. In 1912 a Jesuit team excavated at the site of the fort, where they identified remains as those of La Vérendrye and Aulneau of the 1736 expedition by artifacts, including Aulneau's rosary and the hook to his cassock, buried with him under the altar.
To celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the Catholic Knights of Columbus in Minnesota, they and co-religionists in Manitoba raised funds to buy the property of the fort and reconstruct it, including a shrine to Fr. Aulneau. (This may be a distortion of the history, as the fort was for commercial purposes.) Begun in 1949, they completed the project in 1950. The Fort is situated on Magnussen's Island, at the site of the old fort, at the mouth of Angle Inlet.
The fort is located in the Northwest Angle of the state of Minnesota on Lake of the Woods. It is likely that the original fort was on mainland, but the location became an island as the lake levels were raised by control structures on the Winnipeg River.