It may now be a crumbling parking lot with a curling club next door, but this fall the first work on a proposed $19-million heritage park and interpretive centre at Upper Fort Garry will begin.
At the public unveiling of the plans for the new public park on Wednesday, Jerry Gray, chairman of the Friends of Upper Fort Garry (FUFG), said $10.3 million has already been banked with a further $9 million needed to complete the project within the next five years.
Gray said he is confident the money will be raised for the project, which has grown during the months they have been receiving feedback from the public.
"People in the province said 'you have one chance to do it, don't mess it up,' while others say 'do it right,' " he said.
"We have done something spectacular."
Gray said site-preparation work will begin this fall with actual construction to begin next spring.
The Hudson's Bay Company built the fort between 1835 and 1837, just south of present-day Broadway, down to around present-day Assiniboine Avenue. It was the administrative and judicial centre for the Red River Settlement and later served as the location of Louis Riel's provisional government, leading it to be called the site of the birthplace of Manitoba.
It was demolished between 1881 and 1889. Currently, the only piece of the fort left is the north gate in a small park at the north end of the proposed development.
Last year, the Friends of Upper Fort Garry were granted ownership of the property, including the park where the gate is and the land and building at 100 Main St.
Both the provincial and federal governments contributed $1.5 million while the city donated the land. The province also purchased the Petro Canada gas station at Broadway and Main Street to help re-establish the fort's historic footprint.
The FUFG has since purchased the Grain Exchange Curling Club and plans to demolish it next year.
Dozens of people came to the unveiling and saw drawings along with a wooden mock-up of the park. Nearby, people dressed in period costumes answered questions and posed for photographs.
Examining the large posters showing the plans for the site, Winnipegger Isabel Christie said she liked what she saw.
"I'm thrilled about this," Christie said. "I like the way it is connected to The Forks -- I've just been so thrilled by it since I heard about it."
Jim Carr, president of the Business Council of Manitoba, was also impressed with what he saw.
"It's a wonderful monument and it puts us in touch with the history of our province and its roots to our wonderfully diverse country," Carr said.
The plans also show a 23,000-square-foot building, which will house an interpretive centre, theatre, library and offices. "It will be a unique symbol of the fort," Gray said.
As well, after university archeological students dig into the ground this summer, the park will show where the foundations of various buildings were and displays will show what was done in the building and how it fit into the overall workings of the fort.
Landscape architect Garry Hilderman, a director of the Friends, said from historical records they know what buildings were inside the fort.
"The archeologists think they know where they are, but we will know for sure," Hilderman said.
Future plans include making Bonnycastle Park part of the park, with a large Métis village to depict what activities would have been done by those living outside the walls of the fort.
Former premier Gary Filmon, another director of the Friends, said "I hope the public will be very excited about what they see here.
"This is the most important historic site in Western Canada. And it's great there will be the synergy of The Forks, the human rights museum and it is all in walking distance of each other."