During a Jesuit mission in France in 1889, an old man named Aulneau approached the priests say that they were the first Jesuits he had met, although some generations before a member of his own family had become a Jesuit priest and was later slain by Indians in North America. He told of letters from this young priest, preserved as heirlooms in his family for over a hundred and fifty years. The missionaries obtained the letters, which were copied, translated in to English and later published in The Canadian Messenger, a widely circulated Jesuit magazine. The story was also reprinted in a book that appeared in 1893, entitled, The Aulneau Collection of Letters.
The Jesuits at St. Boniface College (across the Red River from Winnipeg) became interested in the Aulneau letters and in the summer of 1890 organized an expedition to search Lake of theWoods to locate Fort St. Charles and to recover the body of Father Jean Pierre Aulneau, S.J. They were unsuccessful in finding the fort, as were other similar expeditions in later years.
Then in 1908, an expedition sponsored by Archbishop Langevin of St. Boniface, comprised of professors and others from St. Boniface College, camped on American Point Island (the island adjacent to Magnusson Island). Father Pacquin, expedition leader, cut his foot with an axe and was confined to the camp. While others in the party searched the north shore of the Inlet, he re-examined the notes of earlier expeditions and studied in particular the statements of old Chief Powassin, since deceased. He became convinced that the old chief had said that the crumbled chimneys he had seen as a boy were near a cove west of their current location.
The next day the entire party coasted westward along the south shore (United States side) of Angle Inlet and soon reached the cove as described by Chief Powassin. Here they landed and formed a line to beat through dense forest that covered the area. Advancing only a short distance, they soon found flat cimney stones and the remnants of fireplaces. Axes and shovels were put to use; trees and brush cleared; and soon the stumps of an old stockade were disclosed- Fort St. Charles had been rediscovered.
Later that summer, with official witnesses, the site was methodically trenched, mapped and photographed. Bones and nineteen skulls of the voyageurs were found; then the bodies of Jean Baptiste La Verendrye and Father Aulneau. After positive identification, the bones of Father Aulneau and others were moved to St. Boniface College. A cross with a wooden plaque was left to mark the site of Ft. St. Charles and during the following years the sites were rarely visited and again soon reverted to wilderness. And thus it remained for another forty-two years.
In the spring of 1949 Dr. Paul E. LaFleche, Fourth Degree Master of Manitoba, suggested to George F. Parkos, Master of the Minnesota Fourth Degree that clearing and permanently marking the site of Fort St. Charles would be an appropriate project for the Minnesota Fourth Degree to mark their 50th anniversary.
In 1951 work groups of Fourth Degree Knights with only hand tools began felling trees and clearing brush. Work continued in the summers. The chapel was erected in 1955 and the fort palisade and corner bastions were completed in 1960.
Douglas A. Birk, Chairman for the Institute of Minnesota Archaeology, conducted a preliminary archaeological search at Fort St. Charles during the 1970’s. He reported that the site is of “national significance.”
In discussing his findings, Birk said, “For years Fort St. Charles was La Verendrye’s principal headquarters and depot and the rendezvous of numerous Crees, Monsoini, and Assiniboine war parties that ventured southward to raid the Dakota tribe. Fort St. Charles was the point of departure for some of the most westerly explorations of its time and its use and maintenance helped lay the foundations for later development of the Northwest under the British. The fort was finally abandoned in the mid 1750‘s when eastern wars forced the French to withdraw from this area. To add to its distinction and historic importance, Fort St. Charles today is just one of three pre-1763 French fort sites that have been found in Minnesota and it is the only one that is positively identified by name. The significance of Fort St. Charles as a center for early French exploration, trade, diplomatic and missionary efforts is today matched only by its importance as a material repository of archaeological information.”
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