The Building of Fort Prince of Wales
by Joseph Robson
Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1967, Volume 12, Number 2
Prince of Wales's-fort is a square fort with four bastions. But before I begin the estimate, it may be proper to observe, that as no labourers were set apart for the building, which always was stopped as often as any other kind of business interfered; and as no regular account was kept of these frequent interruptions; it will be difficult to form an estimate in any other way, than by taking the quantity of work that was done during the three years that I was concerned, and the number of masons, labourers, and horses, that were necessary to perform that work; and then computing the expense of the whole, in proportion to the expense of this part.
All the stone, limestone, sand, and the wood for burning the lime, was upon the spot. Most of the stone and limestone lay within a quarter of a mile's distance from the fort, and none at more than half a mile's distance.
The little smith's and carpenter's work also that was done in these three years, for neither lead nor iron was used in cramping the stones, was performed by the Company's common servants, whose charges are not to be brought into the account, till the expenses of building the house within the fort are rated. So that the expense of the fort in the first three years, at a large allowance, does not exceed £1425:18:0. I carefully examined how much of the wall was built in this time and found that, at the same expense, and with the same number of hands, the rampart might have been finished in six years more, and in a far better manner; for great part of what was afterwards done has tumbled, but what was then done stands well.
In these three years we built two bastions and the curtain between them about seven feet and a half high; and also laid the foundation of another bastion, and built a curtain and half a curtain, and one face of the bastion about two feet and a half or three feet high; which made considerably more than one third of the measurement of the whole rampart: trebling, therefore, the first three years expense, and only deducting the price of four horses valued at £60, the charge of the whole rampart could not exceed £4217:14:0.
The next part to be estimated is the parapet. This was at first built of wood; but as the wood was supplied from the old demolished fort five miles up the river, and as the carpenter put it up in thirteen weeks with very little assistance, the expense of it to the Company could not be very large. In the year 1746, I assisted in building the stone-parapet; and tho' I had only two masons with me, and much of my own time was taken up in selecting proper stones and in surveying, yet the parapet was carried along the flank of a bastion and curtain in one summer; and if the governor had not obstructed the work, but had allowed us a stated number of labourers, having always either too few or too many, we should have been able to have finished another flank.
The two masons could not do much to the parapet after I came away, as they were employed in erecting a battery at Cape-merry on the other side of the harbour: at the time, therefore, that it was represented, that the building had cost the Company between thirty and forty thousand pounds, very little more than a fifth part of the parapet was completed, the expense of which may be easily ascertained; for, if a flank and curtain were made by three masons, in one summer and autumn; surely, four masons and eleven labourers might do as much in one year; and the expense of four masons, eleven labourers, and four horses, with utensils for one year, cannot exceed 4601.
A house was built within the fort, the length of which, from out to out, was 101 feet 6 inches; the breadth 33 feet; and the height of the wall 17 feet, making two stories, with a flat roof covered with lead: but all the materials, except iron, lead, glass, and some large beams, were procured upon the spot; and I would undertake to build such a house there, with the advantage of carrying materials from England in the annual ship, for 6001.
Three of the bastions had arches for storehouses 40 feet 3' inches by 10 feet; and in the fourth bastion was built a stone-magazine 24 feet long, and 10 feet wide in the clear, with a passage to it thro' the gorge of the bastion, 24 feet long, and 4 feet wide. Now comparing the expense of building these, with that of the other parts of the fort; I think, that two thirds of the expense of the first three years would be sufficient; that is, four masons, eleven labourers, and four horses, &c. for two years, amounting to about 920 1 with 42 1. more for the lead made use of to cover the magazine.
I have rated the expenses of the masons and labourers, as if they had been constantly employed upon the building both winter and summer; whereas, the building could be carried on only from May to September, and during the remaining seven months, the people were engaged in other business for the service of the Company by which they defrayed, at least, the charge of their maintenance for this interval, which yet I have placed to the account of the fort. Indeed, in the whole estimate I have rated every article so high, that an experienced workman, if he was acquainted with the nature of the country, would not compute the total expense at so much by some hundred pounds.
It appears, therefore,
FIRST, That in the year 1749, the Company could not have expended more than £6239: 14:0.
SECONDLY, That, as a fifth part of the parapet was then finished for £460, and the rest consequently, might have been done for £1840 more, the whole expense of completing the fort, and all the buildings within, cannot possibly exceed £8000.
Page revised: 18 July 2009