After a decade in the making, the ribbon was cut last week on the Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park in Winnipeg. The historical site, located at the intersection of Broadway Avenue and Main Street, was a centre of trade and was the administrative and judicial body of the Red River Settlement, which was governed by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Jerry Gray Chairs the Friends of Upper Fort Garry, the group responsible for developing the park. He offers a brief history on how the Fort came to be.
Gray goes on to say in 1853 the Fort doubled in size and was eventually sold back to the Government of Canada, which brought on concerns of what would happen to the Red River Settlement, particularly the land that people owned. "With the surveying of the land and the questions about the rights of the settlers here in the Red River Colony, that's when the (Louis) Riel story starts."
He adds the Fort is the birthplace of Manitoba and some would say, the one of the most important developments in the history of Western Canada.
Eventually Upper Fort Gary was demolished between 1881 and 1888. Gray says this was something their group had to work around when planning and building the park, adding because the Fort couldn't be rebuilt they opted for an artistic interpretation of the site. "Literally, Main Street cuts through the Fort. In fact, one of the reasons the Fort was torn down in the late 1880's was to straighten Main Street, so we have access and ownership of about sixty-per cent of the original Fort property."
Gray goes on to say there is nothing literal at the site, outside of the original Governor's Gate. "There are foundations that represent the original buildings, there are structural items that represent structural things in the Fort. The only thing that's an exact replica, turns out, is a flag pole and that stands in the exact spot where the original flag pole stood."
A major feature of the park is still yet to come. Gray says The Heritage Wall will be constructed later this fall and will mimic the original west wall of the Fort. It'll be fifteen feet high and four-hundred feet long of coreten steel. "And on this wall are icons, images, everything pertaining to the development of this area over the last five-hundred years." He adds the wall will also contain seven-thousand LED lights, where officials can program certain images to come up that tell a particular story.
The final stage of the park development will be a 35,000 square foot interpretive centre at the southwest corner. That building is expected to go up in the next three to five years.
While the park is a unique and beautiful feature to have in a metropolitan area, Gray explains ultimately it is an educational tool for history buffs as well as the younger generation. He adds this education is delivered in an equally unique way, with a technological twist. "People go there and they expect to see plaques and signs, we don't have any of that because there's so much more that needs to be told in some ways you put on a plaque that might be a foot or two square."
Finally, when asked what he felt the legacy would be of Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park Gray said, "I think they'll see it as an innovative but necessary project that preserved a very important piece of Manitoba's history as well as that of Western Canada."