Adventurous workers wanted for remote locations – Housing provided

Sir Harry Oakes Chateau, Kirkland Lake

Photo: Sir Harry Oakes Chateau, Kirkland Lake


Denis Héroux

Buildings and architecture, Community

Published Date: Jun 12, 2008

The exploration, settlement and development of northern Ontario were motivated by the exploitation of the region’s natural resources – primarily fur, timber, gold and silver. Typically, these industries were located in remote areas and consequently the founding companies had to build houses for their first employees. Moose Factory, Keewatin and Kirkland Lake all followed this pattern.

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) workers came to Moose Factory from Britain on five-year contracts. They lived in communal quarters in the fort, safe from attacks by their rival, the North West Company. In 1821, the HBC merged with its rival and some of its men had established families with the local Cree women. These circumstances prompted the HBC to build company housing for its workforce, a practice that continued well into the 20th century. The Trust owns two of those houses: the Joseph Turner House (c.1864) and the William McLeod House (1889-90). As with other typical Moose Factory houses, they are built of squared logs covered with horizontal boards, measure 16’ x 20’ (5 m. x 6 m.) and are 2½ storeys high. The Trust also owns the HBC Staff House, a two-storey log house built in 1850. It originally housed the unmarried company officers – such as accounting clerks, ships’ captains and the doctor. All of Moose Factory’s residents lived in company-built houses until the 1970s when the company transferred ownership of the houses to the occupants. All have since been demolished except for those saved by the Trust.

Company-built housing was also common in the lumber industry. In 1889, the Keewatin Lumbering and Manufacturing Company built three comfortable two-storey frame houses for its company managers. The Trust now owns one of them – Mather-Walls House in Kenora – which is operated as a house museum by the Lake-of-the-Woods Historical Society. The company also built 12 semi-detached houses and a boarding house for its workforce.

In 1930, mining magnate Sir Harry Oakes built a 12,000-square-foot (1,100-square-meter) home in Kirkland Lake to accommodate the Lake Shore Company directors and his family when attending company business. The house is really a company-built mansion. It has 12 bedrooms, including four for live-in servants. It also features indoor parking for seven cars, a billiard room and separate men’s and women’s coat rooms with en suite lavatories. Sir Harry Oakes Chateau is owned by the Trust and is operated by the Town of Kirkland Lake as the Museum of Northern History.

All of the Trust’s northern Ontario properties can be visited during the summer except for the McLeod House, which is closed for restoration. The Sir Harry Oakes Chateau is open year-round. For more information about the Trust’s northern properties, visit