Albany Fort, North America, from the cover of Albany account book, 1791-92
Charles Fort (later Rupert House) was the name given to the spot where the crew of the Nonsuch overwintered in 1668-69. HBC's second establishment, Moose Factory, was built at the "bottom of the Bay" in 1673. The Company built its third post on Bayly Island in the Albany River, in 1674.
Albany was established by Charles Bayly, the "Governor in the Bay", or chief officer of HBC's North American operations. Its construction was part of HBC’s strategy to erect major trading posts at the mouths of all the major rivers flowing into Hudson Bay to serve the First Nations who would travel down the rivers each spring to trade. Originally known as Chichewan River, from the Cree meaning "many rivers forming one which flows to the ocean", the post was rechristened Fort Albany, in honour of HRH James, Duke of York & Albany (later King James II) in 1683, when he became the Company's 2nd Governor on the death of Prince Rupert.
By 1684 the new overseas Governor, Henry Sergeant, had moved the post to the south bank of the river, about 6.5 km (4 miles) from its mouth, to improve access. Not long afterwards growing tensions between the French and English in North America - occasioned largely by the growing success of the English fur trade - escalated into full-scale warfare in the Hudson Bay region. In 1686 Albany was captured by the French, under the command of the Chevalier de Troyes, who renamed it Fort Ste. Anne. De Troyes and his "army" - some thirty professional soldiers including Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur d'Iberville, seventy Canadian "irregulars" and a few native guides - left Montreal by canoe as soon as the spring break-up permitted and travelled over 1,280 km (800 miles). Eighty-two days later they appeared out of the bush and successfully assaulted Moose Factory and Rupert House before making their way to Albany.
A South East View of Albany Factory, A Winter View, by William Richards
Ownership and occupation of the Bayside forts see-sawed back and forth over the next few years. Albany was recaptured by James Knight in 1693 and remained in HBC's hands until hostilities were ended by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. From 1697 through 1714 Albany was HBC's only operational post, managed by the erstwhile Knight.
Albany next took centre stage with the establishment, in 1743, of its satellite post, Henley House, at the junction of the Albany and Kabinakagami Rivers, some 240 km (150 miles) upstream. Because its hinterland was susceptible to incursions from New France, as more Canadian "pedlars" entered the area the more the trade at Albany suffered. Albany's master, Joseph Isbister, took matters into his own hands, and determined to erect a new post. But Henley's primary purpose was to encourage the First Nations to continue to travel to the Bay to trade rather than trade itself. Moreover HBC had yet to work out how to site, supply and communicate with such a remote post. Consequently Henley House never operated as a full-fledged post and in 1754, when the sexual conduct of Manager William Lamb led the local First Nations to plunder the post and massacre the inhabitants, the inland experiment came to an abrupt end. It would be more than 30 years before the Company would open its first inland trading post, in 1774 at Cumberland House in northern Saskatchewan.
As the fur trade developed in the interior of Ontario in the late 18th and early 19th c., freighting became an important activity and Albany became a key distribution point. Goods from London were transhipped through Moose Factory because the river at Albany was too shallow. From there they were sent by smaller vessels to Albany and then by river inland to Martin's Falls, Fort Hope, Osnaburgh and Lac Seul. This remained the pattern until the arrival of the railway, which slowly replaced the majority of sea-and-river transportation routes. By the middle of the 20th century the railway routes were being supplemented by regular air freight.
Albany served as administrative HQ for the Albany District from 1674-1901, when it became part of the James Bay district, headquartered in Moose Factory.
Doing business at Albany, ca. 1905
In 1905 the Fort Albany #67 Indian Reserve was established by Treaty No. 9. During the 1950s, the reserve divided into the two communities and today is home to two First Nations: Fort Albany and Kashechewan. The Fort Albany First Nation is located on the south bank of the Albany River about 15 km (9.3 miles) upstream from James Bay. The on-reserve population of approx. 900 lives in three areas: the mainland, Anderson Island and Sinclair Island. Kashechewan, with an on-reserve population of 1,200, is located close by along the north bank of the Albany River. Both communities are approximately 150 km (93 miles) north of Moosonee.
Albany post ca. 1925
From the fort's founding in 1674 until the sale of its Northern Stores Department in 1987, HBC maintained a post, and later a retail location, at Fort Albany, the only break occurring during the years when the fort was held by the French. A second HBC store in the new community of Kashechewan opened in 1965. Today the North West Company, successor to HBC's northern retail and fur operations, continues to operate stores in both locations, under its retail banner Northern.