In yet another historic milestone for this city, 2013 marks the 275th anniversary of the first white guys setting foot in Winnipeg.
In 1738, Quebec explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye paddled up the Red River to The Forks and built a fur-trading post he dubbed Fort Rouge. Although it was little more than a cabin on the south bank of the Assiniboine River, the fort marked the beginning of a European presence at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine, a well-known gathering spot for indigenous people for the previous 6,000 years.
Depending on the account, the original Fort Rouge lasted only four to 10 years. But it paved the way for Fort Gibraltar, which was later renamed Fort Garry and then finally dubbed the City of Winnipeg in 1873.
To Winnipeg's francophone community, Fort Rouge marks the beginning of their history. "You've had (French) people living here quite regularly from the 1730s," said Michel Loiselle, a founding member of the La Compagnie de La Vérendrye, a group that re-enacts the expedition's arrival in Winnipeg.
Loiselle is spearheading efforts to celebrate the 275th anniversary of Fort Rouge, which coincides with Winnipeg's 140th birthday as a city. Although historians are certain the fort stood somewhere on South Point, its precise location is a mystery. The scant records that exist place it on the south bank of the Assiniboine, somewhere between Queen Elizabeth Way and the Red River.
"It was basically almost a cabin-type building. It wasn't a proper fortified fort. It didn't leave behind many traces," said Sandra Hollender, cultural resources manager for Parks Canada's Manitoba field unit.
No one knows where the fort was rebuilt in 1753, added Loiselle, who has conducted extensive research of his own. What is known from La Vérendrye's writing is there were two villages of Assiniboine, the Souian people also known as Nakoda, somewhere in the vicinity at the time.
La Vérendrye didn't stay long at Fort Rouge, as he was under orders to push west to discover a passage to the Pacific Ocean. The men who stayed behind lived at the fort for three years at a time, trading furs in an effort to finance the exploratory expedition.
"We wouldn't be there if they hadn't come. As a francophone, I appreciate they dropped some roots here and built lives," said Ginette Lavack Walters, executive director of Festival du Voyageur, which celebrates Winnipeg's history as a fur-trade centre as well as its francophone heritage.
Although the re-creation of Fort Gibraltar at Festival du Voyageur's Old St. Boniface site re-enacts fur-trade existence in 1815, this year, a structure outside the fort's walls, La Maison Chaboillez, will house a 1700s-themed tavern, staffed by costumed members of Loiselle's company. "We're celebrating the first fort in Winnipeg," he said.
This all comes at a time when Canada's indigenous population is celebrating its own much longer history by reasserting its treaty rights. Along with serving as Fort Rouge's 275th anniversary, this year is the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which stipulated no British lands in North America could be settled without treaty negotiations with First Nations.
La Vérendrye's arrival at The Forks is important because it integrated the Red River Valley into a larger colonial trade network, said Adele Perry, a University of Manitoba history professor and the Canada research chair in western Canadian social history.
But she warned of placing too much significance on the arrival of Europeans. "People in this part of the world had an extraordinarily sophisticated system of trade that was continent-wide in reach," said Perry, noting Europeans simply kept better records.
"La Vérendrye has a place in popular memory because of those records, but it behooves us to be a little more searching," she said.
Nonetheless, it's important for Winnipeg to know its history, said Mayor Sam Katz. "It's good to know," he said. "A lot of other cities in Canada make this a highlight."
HISTORY LESSON: Important dates in Winnipeg's past
4,000 B.C.: Bison hunters started camping out at The Forks, beginning a 6,000-year indigenous presence in what's now Winnipeg.
1400: Indigenous farmers, possibly related to today's Mandan, grew squash, corn and beans along the Red River Valley.
1600s: At the time of first contact with Europeans, the ancestors of Cree, Nakoda/Assiniboine and other modern First Nations had a presence in southern Manitoba.
1738: On Sept. 24, Fort Rouge is founded near The Forks by La Vérendrye, a Québécois explorer.
1753: Fort Rouge is rebuilt, although no one today is certain where.
1767: The first English-speaking traders visit the Red River Valley.
1809: The North West Co. builds Fort Gibraltar near The Forks.
1812: Selkirk settlers reach what's now Winnipeg. The Hudson's Bay Co. builds Fort Douglas north of what's now downtown.
1822: After merging with the North West Co., the Hudson's Bay Co. takes control of Fort Gibraltar and renames it Fort Garry.
1826: Fort Garry is destroyed by a catastrophic Red River flood.
1835: Fort Garry is rebuilt.
1869: The HBC hands Canada control of Rupertsland, which includes the Red River Valley.
1870: Manitoba is created following the Red River Resistance, led by Louis Riel.
1873: The City of Winnipeg is founded on Nov. 8, with a population of 1,869.
1960: Metro Winnipeg is created in an attempt to govern both the city and its suburbs.
1973: Winnipeg amalgamates with 13 of its suburbs.
2013: Winnipeg celebrates its 140th birthday as a city.
-- sources: City of Winnipeg, Parks Canada and Free Press files