Sir George Simpson needed a new home for his young English bride. He also needed a substantial Hudson’s Bay Company post to serve the company’s trading needs in a place free from seasonal floods and somewhat removed from the centre of the Red River settlement where Winnipeg stands today. In 1832, he moved his bride into the new stone fort called Lower Fort Garry and attempted to move the centre of Red River Valley commerce there as well.
While the fort never achieved the economic role Simpson envisioned, it played a pivotal role in the development of western Canada. Rapids on the Red River above the fort made Lower Fort Garry a logical place from which to ship goods to supply a large number of forts downstream along the Saskatchewan River and beyond. Manufactured goods arrived via the Hayes River and Lake Winnipeg to be shipped out to the trading posts.
Men like William Bear and John Badger from the local Aboriginal community hired on at the fort as tripmen to row York boats along the rivers to the north and west. Jerry and Betsey Johnstone traded hand-made tump lines to be used for portaging cargo on the long journeys across the west. Employees’ wives, widows, children, extended families and local residents would pick berries and hops, cut hay and firewood, fish, make clothing, and work on the Lower Fort Garry farm while waiting for their loved ones to return.
Many of these people may have been among the over 2000 Saulteaux (Ojibway) and Swampy Cree peoples who gathered at Lower Fort Garry in 1871 to begin the treaty process. Later that decade, they might have brought firewood to heat the barracks or gone to church services with the new recruits of the recently formed North-West Mounted Police.
Lower Fort Garry presents these stories and many more. Visitors to the site can hear these tales, touch a fur, smell and taste bannock as it is pulled from a stone oven, listen to the pounding of hammer on steel in the blacksmith’s shop and tap their toes to songs of the past.
This management plan describes the long-term vision for the protection, presentation, use and enjoyment of this fascinating historic place. The plan focuses Parks Canada’s decisions, collaborations, financial and human resources, on Lower Fort Garry’s commemorative integrity. It also provides opportunities for meaningful visitor experiences, appreciation and enjoyment of the national historic site.
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