Lower Fort Garry

Lower Fort Garry

Lower Fort Garry was built in 1831 by the Hudson's Bay Company on the western bank of the Red River, twenty miles north of the original Fort Garry, which is now Winnipeg, Manitoba. It is the oldest intact stone fort in North America, and treaty number one was signed there.

After a devastating flood destroyed Fort Garry in 1826, prompting the company's then governor, George Simpson, to search for a safer location down river. Governor Simpson chose the site of Lower Fort Garry because of its high ground and location below the St. Andrew's Rapids, eliminating the time-consuming portage of the heavy fur packs and York Boats. However, the fort never became the administrative centre as it was intended, since most of the population of the area were centred near The Forks, and objected to the extra travel required to do business at the new fort. As a result, Upper Fort Garry was rebuilt in stone at The Forks, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The first buildings built at the fort in 1831 were the "fur loft", which housed the company store, small warehouse and trader's office, and the "Big House" (residence for the governor of the HBC or other high ranking officials). Later additions included a warehouse and a men's house. The fort's signature walls were completed in the 1840s, adding an icehouse, powder magazine, bakehouse, and warehouse bastions. These walls were non-military, intended only to make the fort appear more important and impressive to both local traders and visiting HBC officers. Many of the buildings were constructed with limestone, which was easily obtained from nearby. The site also hosts excellent examples of Red River Frame construction (Farm Manager's House) and Half-timbered construction ("colombage pierroté") (Men's House and Big House Annex).

Although the Lower Fort did trade a small amount of furs, its main purpose was as a supply depot for the Red River settlement and the surrounding Cree, Anishinaabe, Métis, and European (mostly Orkney Scot) populations. Many furs at the fort were brought from other districts, repackaged at the fort and sent to England via York Factory. The post traded essential manufactured goods to the farmers and hunters for produce that was in turn used for provisioning company treks into the north. The fort became an industrial centre by the 1860s and included several buildings, such as a flour mill, sawmill, forge, and a brewery.

On August 3, 1871, the first treaty in Western Canada was established between the Crown and seven Chiefs of the Ojibway (Saulteaux) and Swampy Cree First Nations at Lower Fort Garry. Indian Treaty No. 1 transferred the land that now comprises part of modern Manitoba. The treaty's intent was to ensure the peaceful settlement of the prairies by European immigrants, while providing First Nations people with land, access to resources and other benefits needed for their survival as a people. But almost immediately after the treaty was established, the two parties disagreed on its meaning. Indian Treaty No. 1, the precedent for the 10 subsequent numbered treaties in Western Canada, is commemorated by a plaque outside the West Gate of the Fort.

Every now and then there was a crisis that called for military action, and Lower Fort Garry was the obvious choice for a base of operations. In the 1840s, British troops (6th Regiment of the Foot) were sent to the fort when a dispute erupted with the Americans over the boundary between Oregon and what is now British Columbia. However, some believe the request for troops was actually intended to intimidate local free traders (as trading with anyone other than the HBC was illegal). In either case, by the time the troops arrived (1846), the threat of invasion was long over. The troops (becoming a nuisance by causing minor disturbances) were put to work at the fort completing the construction of the walls. When the Red River Rebellion broke out in 1870, Louis Riel occupied Upper Fort Garry, and the Quebec Rifles took the lower fort. No wars or fights ever occurred at Lower Fort Garry as it was a peaceful settlement.

Training of North-West Mounted Police members took place at the fort in the winter of 1873–1874. Many of the North-West Mounted Police of 1873–74 had been there already during the rebellion in 1870, including Inspector James F. MacLeod, who had met his fiancée, Mary Drever at Lower Fort Garry on the previous trip. The first contingent of Mounties arrived in Lower Fort Garry on October 22, 1873, and on November 3 they were sworn in and commenced training. The bitter winter was spent drilling and learning to ride. The parade ground was frozen as hard as concrete, and was pretty unforgiving when a recruit was unexpectedly pitched from his horse. By the following June they were caught up in preparations for the arrival of Commissioner G.A. French and the other divisions, and headed out to meet them at Fort Dufferin. The fort was turned over once again to the militia.

The fort has also been a penitentiary, and insane asylum (1885-1886), an HBC residence, and a golf course/motor country club (1911–1963). One of the insane asylum's most infamous residents was Honoré Jaxon, Louis Riel's secretary who was found not guilty of treason by reason of insanity after the North-West Rebellion. The HBC owned the fort until 1951, when it was given to the federal government. The fort is now one of Parks Canada's flagship national historic sites. Between May and September, costumed interpreters recreate life at Lower Fort Garry in the early 1850s when Eden Colvile was inland governor of the HBC and in residence at the fort.

Lower Fort Garry is currently operated by Parks Canada. Step back in time as costumed interpreters take you back to the mid-1800s by re-enacting events of the early days of this Hudson's Bay Company post. Stone walls encircle the fort's enclosure, the largest group of original 19th century fur trade buildings in Canada. Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site of Canada is open to the public daily from May 15th to Labour Day, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

External links

Parks Canada Website
* [http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/mb/fortgarry/index_e.asp Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site of Canada] Treaty 1
* [http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/pr/trts/trty1-2_e.html Treaty #1]

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