Moose Factory is often referred to as the "Oldest English-Speaking Settlement in Ontario." Although this may be true, it hides the fact that its history, heritage and the Indigenous people that lived in the area trace their roots back much further. Moose Factory, as a place of settlement and fur trading post, (originally called Moose Fort) was established by the Hudson's Bay Company back in 1673. The term "Factory" refers to the jurisdiction of a factor (a business agent or merchant in charge of buying or selling) of the Hudson's Bay Company. Just as a rector presides over a rectory, a factor holds authority over a factory.
The area was explored by Pierre-Esprit Radisson in the winter of 1670/71 from the base at Rupert House. In 1673, Charles Bayly of the Hudson's Bay Company established a fur-trading post originally called Moose Fort. Besides trading, it was also intended to protect the company's interests from French traders to the south. The fort was profitable and had a direct impact on the fur trade in New France.
So in 1686, Chevalier de Troyes led a small contingent of French soldiers north on an expedition to raid HBC forts. The English defenders were caught by total surprise and surrendered. The French captured Moose Fort and renamed it Fort St. Louis. Ten years later in 1696, the English recaptured it and burned it to the ground. No trace has remained of this original fort.
The Hudson's Bay Company set up a new fort in 1730, one mile upstream from the old site, to accommodate Cree traders for whom travel to the other James Bay posts was too dangerous. Five years later, this one also was destroyed by a fire that started in the kitchen, but was rebuilt over a period of seven years.
In 1821, when the Hudson's Bay Company merged with the rival North West Company, there were no longer any serious threats and the post expanded beyond the fort's palisades. Thereafter, it came to be known as Moose Factory. It became HBC's main base on James Bay, being the administrative headquarters of the Southern Department. The Governor of Rupert's Land and Council met frequently there to plan for the coming year's operations.
In 1905, the Cree signed a treaty (Treaty 9) with the government that established the Factory Island Indian Reserve. Around the same time, the Parisian furrier company Revillon Freres set up a trading post on the west bank of the Moose River. This post, first known as Moose River Post, grew into the town of Moosonee and provided stiff competition to the HBC Moose Factory post. In 1931, the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway was completed at Moosonee. This allowed supplies to be delivered from the south by train, thereby making sea voyages redundant that could only be done once per year. In 1936, the last supply ship arrived. After World War II, the Hudson's Bay Company transformed into a retail business, and in 1960 it opened a modern retail store in Moose Factory. The HBC staff house and other historic properties were converted into the open-air museum of Centennial Park that opened in 1967. The HBC continued to operate in Moose Factory until 1987, when its operations in northern Canada, including Moose Factory, were sold to The North West Company. Today, the North West Company operates a grocery and general goods store at the Moose Cree Complex and a furniture, outdoor vehicles, fast food outlet and convenience store near some of the historic HBC buildings.