Winnipeg's newest historical public space is quite the sight (or, I should say, site).
Having just opened this month, The Upper Fort Garry Provincial Heritage Park has been years -- and arguably over a century -- in the making.
The non-profit group The Friends of Upper Fort Garry have been preserving the site since 2006, which marks "the birthplace of the province."
Construction on the original fort began in 1834 and was completed in 1837, when it would become a trade and commerce centre under the Hudson's Bay Company.
For around half a century Upper Fort Garry played a central role in the development of the Red River Settlement, being the main trading station for an area larger than Eastern Europe. Louis Riel, the "Father of Manitoba" also formed the Provisional Government here -- after taking the Fort with his group of French-speaking Métis -- which would later result in Manitoba entering Confederation by 1870.
The Fort was demolished in the late 1800s after being left abandoned in 1882, with only the original -- and now iconic -- stone North Gate, "The Old Governor's Gate," remaining up until present time.
After much fundraising and construction, the initial phase of the Upper Fort Garry Provincial Heritage Park is now open to the public.
Where once stood mammoth stone and wood structures, whose walls housed the rough and tumble men and women who helped make Winnipeg a real city, now stands a stylish park studded with public art, garden paths, and an inviting design that, despite being right beside the bustle of Main Street, provides a tranquil space right in the middle of downtown.
The design elements within Upper Fort Garry Provincial Heritage Park portray thematic stories centring around the themes of nation building, cultural conflict, and public debate. More displays and features are also in the works, including a meeting area and interpretive area, along with a massive multimedia installation utilizing sound and lights (scheduled for an unveiling this fall) that will tell the story of the Fort in an innovative fashion.
Corresponding with opening of The Upper Fort Garry Provincial Heritage Park, an app has been developed by the Friends of Upper Fort Garry which reveals, through images and script, what it looked like as an active trading fort. It's a great way to explore the area as the app shows how the park reflects and interprets history in an artistic fashion.
If this is not enough of an immersive historical experience for you then be sure to make your way north to Lower Fort Garry, located between Winnipeg and the town of Selkirk. (Yes, it is above Winnipeg, making the "Lower" name confusing, so here's a map.)
At Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site year round, family-friendly activities are frequently guided by costumed interpreters. Throughout the summer you can take the guided "Beaver to Bricks" tour (Friday–Wednesday, 11 a.m. & 2 p.m., Thursdays, 2 p.m. & 4:30 p.m.) where Lower Fort Garry's past as an asylum, penitentiary, and trading area are brought to life.
Lower Fort Garry also has a splendid roster of hands-on tours that your kids will love where you can learn everything from baking bannock, to making hot chocolate, to forming candles from fat, to "cast iron chef" competitions where you and your team create a fur trade era dish for the Fort's historical inhabitants to judge.
Lower Fort Garry also contains over 46,000 artifacts within its 13 buildings, while come October the whole Fort gets ghoulish with both Lower Fort Scary (for the kids) and Fright at the Fort, when the area is overrun with the undead.
Finally, take note that the the Friends of Lower Fort Garry will be celebrating their 30th anniversary this Saturday, August 22, with High Tea at 3 p.m. followed by a "Beavers and Beers" social starting at 7 p.m.