This Travel Thursday is a local one for me- Lower Fort Garry is a surviving fort of the fur trade and was established in 1830 on the banks of the Red River. Although it is not so old as many sites in Europe, it is still a fascinating look into the past, and one that applies to many of us even now. The fur traders, lands, and animals supplied Europeans with countless furs, animal skins, and resources, with the Hudson’s Bay Company being the dominating company. Manitoba is in the centre of Canada, and allowed the fur traders to move along various routes! We spent the morning there on a beautiful day, and it was wonderful to spend a few hours in our own history…
Lower Fort Garry served as a depot and a store for the HBC, with the furloft and storage building being the first buildings built! Now when you visit, there are roughly ten buildings inside the fort and another five or so outside of it. The fort is maintained to what life would have been like in 1851, and from May until September, you can see historical re-enactors going about their daily lives. As a historian, I tend to ask more questions than the average person that sometimes veers into the obscure that you would only know if you had studied the period in depth. (I actually took very little Canadian history in my university career, so I know enough to ask the questions but not answer them…) We took my two year old nephew and he had a wonderful time- I will turn him into a historian, yet!!
Because it is Canada’s 150th birthday (Woohoo, Canada!), all historic national sites are free to everyone. I personally think that it’s worth paying the entrance fee anyways, but it’s a nice bonus. Parks Canada currently has a #SharetheChair project where you share a picture of you in the red adironack chair- a very cool way to link us together across this very large country of ours!
Anyhoo, back to the history at hand. Winnipeg is the meeting place of two rivers: the Red River and the Assiniboine River. Both led along fur trade routes, and so Upper Fort Garry began in the mid 1820s. It flooded out spectacularly, and so George Simpson (governor of the HBC) moved it to the current site today. A bit further from the actual meeting place of the rivers (aka the Forks here in Winnipeg) but no flooding to contend with on a regular basis.
The Fort that we visited has a storeroom, furloft, museum of the Indigenous peoples, a corner building used for talks now, a doctor’s office, a bakery, a schoolhouse/churchroom/dining hall, a few homes, and the Big House. The Big House is as you could imagine, a big house. The governor of the fort lived there, and when I’ve been in the past, it’s been a fairly amazing house. However, it was closed for a wedding, and I have to ask why the board thought it was a good idea to close the main attraction to people visiting on Saturdays and Sundays… (It means we’ll need another trip back!) Overall, the Fort is an excellent example of what life was like at the Fort in the mid-nineteenth century, and does well to illustrate our role in the larger picture of history. Dear Europe, you’re welcome for all of the beaver hats….
Interestingly, the fort also served as the first jail in Manitoba, an HBC residence, a mental hospital, and a golf club. I would have loved to see it in it’s heydey of Hudson’s Bay Company operations, but that’s why we have history books for me to read! This historian believes that places like Lower Fort Garry bring a little piece of the historical action to everyone 🙂