While Churchill had existed for three hundred years as a trading post on the west side of the river, Churchill’s first settlers at its present location were the Beech family. William Beech and his sons recognized that the Churchill River was the only legitimate location of an international port on Hudson Bay and headed north to establish their claim.
By 1905, William Beech, an entrepreneur and founding member of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, determined that the Port of Churchill was the only viable harbour along western Hudson Bay and the only viable destination for the Hudson Bay Rail line, not Port Nelson as planned by the Government of Canada.
The following year, the Beech family (William, his wife, Rosabelle, and his 23-year-old son, Carl) loaded up five year’s worth of food, supplies, trade goods and a camera onto the Lake Winipeg steamer, the Wolverine. From Warren’s Landing, they travelled by canoe to Norway House where they commissioned a york boat to York Factory. Finally, a Hudson’s Bay Schooner would transport them to their final destination, the Churchill River trading post.
That year, the HBC supply ship had wrecked in Hudson Strait and both Churchill and York Factory posts had grimly realized they would have to go without basic staples and goods. They sold a good share of their stores to the posts and were greeted warmly – as they arrived in Churchill, food supplies were reduced to dwindling supplies of flour and some split peas.
They built a 12’x12’ cabin along newly named Isabelle Lake (named for Beech’s daughter) about halfway between present day Churchill and Akudlik Marsh. The logs were harvested three miles up river with tarpauline roof (brought from Winnipeg) chinked with mud and moss.
Beech also staked a claim, essentially the present-day location of the Port of Churchill and surrounding area. That September, a Government of Canada survey crew arrived by steamer to establish a federal claim for the harbour. Beech, with the assistance of the HBC factor at Churchill, informed them that, much to their consternation, this had already been completed. Beech would eventually travel to Winnipeg and in 1908, his claim was validated.
That year, the government sent another survey crew to map out an elaborate network of streets and properties that were hoped to some day amount to a northern city of possibly 50,000 people, named Roblin City after the Premiere of Manitoba.
The Beeches exchanged their homesteading rights for a prime property in Roblin City where he envisioned a luxury hotel ‘overlooking the docks and wharfs of what is bound to be the busiest seaport city in the dominion.’
Unfortunately, government planning and negotiations dragged on and William passed away in 1926, three years before the Hudson Bay rail reached Churchill. The family eventually settled for a one-time payment of $15,000 in 1932.