When a devastating flood in 1826 made a complete ruin of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s headquarters in what is now Winnipeg, the company decided to build on higher ground. This was the beginning of Lower Fort Garry, the oldest intact stone fur trading post in North America.
Constructed during the 1830s, the fort was built to last — with local limestone instead of wood — because it was meant to be the administrative centre for Rupert’s Land, the company’s vast trading empire. While it filled that role for only a few years, it continued to thrive in several incarnations. British troops were stationed here in the 1840s during the Oregon boundary dispute, when war with the U.S. seemed imminent. Opponents of Métis leader Louis Riel rallied there in 1871 and the North West Mounted Police trained its first recruits at Lower Fort Garry. It was also the site of the signing of the first numbered treaties and it later served as a penitentiary and insane asylum.
The fort still has its original walls, ramparts, ammunition batteries, and residences, which together make up the biggest collection of original nineteenth-century fur-trade buildings in Canada.
Time period: 1850s.
Things to do: Wander the grounds and listen to costumed interpreters re-enact the lives of company clerks, York boatmen, tradesmen, native trappers, and the upper crust of Red River society. Learn a historic skill, such as making a fire with flint and steel. Children can sign on for a day as an HBC worker. Special events in 2011 include Treaty 1 commemoration days in early August.
Getting there: Lower Fort Garry is about a twenty-minute drive north of Winnipeg, on Highway 9.
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