On Monday of this week, I had the opportunity to join my daughter Hannah (who is in fourth grade) on her class’s field trip to Lower Fort Garry, a national historic site of Canada. I love their byline: “Come play with history.” Very clever!
For those of you ‘history buffs’ out there, here’s the 411 on Lower Fort Garry from their website. (The rest of you who may not care about such info can scroll down to the first pictures and my commentary on the trip!)…
Your journey of discovery actually begins in downtown Winnipeg, at The Forks, where the original Fort Garry once stood. The unforgiving flood of 1826 destroyed Fort Garry, depriving the Hudson’s Bay Company of a vital centre for trade. In 1830, construction began on a new fort 32 km (20 miles) downriver, one that would stand on higher ground and be situated north of the gruelling St. Andrews rapids. Lower Fort Garry’s main buildings were completed by the early 1840s, using limestone and wood from the surrounding area. Today, these buildings stand as one of the finest collections of early stone buildings in Western Canada.
For three decades, Lower Fort Garry’s thriving agricultural and industrial production provided many of the materials needed to fuel the fur trade in the HBC’s Northern Department. Food, livestock, York boats, and labour were supplied by Lower Fort Garry. The fort also served as an essential supply and distribution centre for fur and trade goods.
On August 3, 1871, at “The Stone Fort”, a treaty was made between chiefs and representatives of the Ojibway and Swampy Cree nations in southern Manitoba and the Crown. Treaty No. 1 was the first of 11 numbered treaties that set the stage for the settlement of Western and Northern Canada.
In later years, the fort served as one of the first training grounds for the North-West Mounted Police prior to their march west, a provincial penitentiary, and a mental health facility. The HBC ceased operations at the fort in 1911, and the Manitoba Motor Country Club leased it from 1913 to 1963. Lower Fort Garry became a national historic site in 1951 and its buildings were restored throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.
As we crossed over the bridge into 1851 Manitoba, we were greeted by the remains of one of the York Boats that were used to traverse the Red River, where York boat brigades left the docking area for the North and West every June, laden with food and trade goods.
From there, we took a tour of the Farm Manager’s house. Alexander Lillie was the Company Farm Manager in the late 1850s, responsible for one of the earliest large-scale commercial farm operations in Western Canada. It was like stepping into a scene out of Little House on the Prairies! Very cool…
Then, we moved onto the Aboriginal Encampment where First Nations people living in the surrounding are would stop at the fort in the summer months to trade or sell goods. Because my wife Liza is part Cree Indian, Hannah and I found this part of the trip particularly interesting, even though the Indians were played by white people… 🙂
The Blacksmith Shop was particularly interesting as we got to see the ‘blacksmith’ actually work with hot metal and make a nail (no photo). From there, we went onto the Big House. Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) posts usually had a dwelling for the officers, or business executives, of the Company. The fellow who played the Governor reminded me so much of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory (anyone else see the resemblance?).
You can see the Lower Fort Garry website HERE for more info about some of the other cool sites we visited.
Another cool aspect of the site was the fact that the students got to build their own miniature tipi’s… see my daughter Hannah here in one…
The walls around the fort were constructed between 1839 and 1848. Although Lower Fort Garry appears to be a military fort, it never saw a battle, and the walls are mostly ornamental.
Our day ended with a stop at Skinners for ice cream on the way back to the school… lots of fun!
– one proud Canadian,