While planning for our day in Winnipeg, Debbie commented that what she did not want to do was visit any more forts. Driving into the city, we were taken by the flatness of the landscape.
After stopping at the Visitor’s Information Center, we decided to drive the short distance to Fort Gibraltar.
As we pulled up, one of the re-enactors told us they opened in 10 minutes and that we could park along the curb … so we did. While killing time, we walked around the perimeter of the fort, the stockade of which was being slowly replaced.
Also, in an adjoining park we climbed an unusual structure … which we later discovered was a toboggan run.
However, proving that there are signs that all cities share some unfortunate issues, we ran across a homeless man still sleeping atop the structure.
When the fort opened, we decided to take a quick look … a stop which lasted for the next 2½ hours.
The re-enactors were excellent, extremely knowledgeable and very engaging. The fact we had what amounted to a private tour likely added to the time each of them spent with us one-on-one.
Further, having visited Grand Portage, Minnesota last week, we had gained some insights into the fur trade
which during the 17th and 18th centuries carried on by the North West Company and the Hudson Bay Company. Until the border between the US and Canada west of the Great Lakes was initially clarified, most of the furs coming from what is today, northern Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba and Saskatchewan was transported (by canoe and portage) by the “Voyagers” (a highly mobile and rugged group of fur traders) to a series of forts and ultimately to Grand Portage … for shipment by boat east to Montreal from which they could be shipped to Europe.
Fort Gibraltar was one of 97 such forts. Its chronology:
- 1809 The North West Company builds Fort Gibraltar.
- 1816 Fort Gibraltar is captured and destroyed by the Red River Colony.
- 1817 Fort Gibraltar is rebuilt by the North West Company.
- 1821 The North West Company merges with the Hudson Bay Company. Fort Gibraltar continues its operations under the Hudson’s Bay Company standard.
- 1822 Fort Gibraltar’s name is changed to Fort Garry.
- 1835 Fort Garry is abandoned but its warehouses are still used.
- 1852 Fort Garry is destroyed by the Red River flood.
- 1978 Fort Gibraltar is rebuilt by the Festival du Voyageur and is today a popular tourist attraction.
While there, we had a lesson in the manufacture of leather and many of it uses during the period Fort Gibraltar was in its heyday,
as well as how the birch bark canoes used by the Voyagers (some up to 40’ in length and able to carry up to 4 tons of cargo) were made and repaired.
Just a note on the Voyagers (which in French means “travelers”).
The Voyageurs were people who engaged in the transportation of furs by canoe during the fur trade era. For the most part, voyageurs were the crews hired to man the canoes that carried trade goods and supplies to trading locations where they were exchanged for furs, and “rendezvous posts” (example: Grand Portage). They are folk heroes romanticized in folklore and music.
“I could carry, paddle, walk and sing with any man I ever saw. I have been twenty-four years a canoe man, and forty-one years in service; no portage was ever too long for me, fifty songs could I sing. I have saved the lives of ten voyageurs, have had twelve wives and six running dogs. I spent all of my money in pleasure. Were I young again, I would spend my life the same way over. There is no life so happy as a voyageur’s life!”
The reality is that their life was one of toil. For example, they had to be able to carry two 90-pound bundles of fur over portages; some carried four or five, there is a report of a Voyageur carrying seven for half of a mile,and legends of voyageurs carrying eight. Hernias were common and frequently caused death. One method of preventing hernias was the use of a [red] cloth waistband which is wrapped tightly around the stomach and lower back, acting like the black apparel often seen by workers in Home Depot.
Our next stop was St. Boniface Cathedral-Basilica in the French Quarter.
As you approach the edifice, you realize that what you are seeing is just the front wall of what was the fifth church built on the site in 1905 and subsequently destroyed by fire in 1968.
Where as the earlier church was the largest and most elaborate Roman Catholic cathedral in Western Canada, as well as the best example of French Romanesque architecture in Manitoba, the church, situated behind the façade and incorporating the original rear wall of the basilica
Is very contemporary.
Along both sides of the entrance walkway are the graves of many former Winnipeg notables as well as religious figures associated with the church.
Crossing the Red River on the Boul-Provencher Bridge,
we wandered through parts of downtown Winnipeg … through Union Station
by the Fort Garry Hotel,
past two historic churches (both of where were, unfortunately, closed),
several excellent building murals and reliefs,
and finally to “The Forks”, a recreation area at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.
Our final stop was at Assiniboine Park, where on the is sunny and warm Sunday afternoon perhaps as many as 2-3 thousand people were enjoying themselves. Our destination were the English Gardens
and the Leo Mol Sculpture Gardens