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Friends of Upper Fort Garry say park's primary significance is the Métis Resistance

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/10/2014 (1035 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Métis Resistance that led to Manitoba’s entry into Confederation is the most important reason to remember Upper Fort Garry, says the chairman of the board behind the new park that will pay tribute to the 3.5 acre site on Main Street.

Jerry Gray, chairman of the Friends of Upper Fort Garry defended the interpretation of the fort’s primary importance in response to a perceived snub of the province’s Scottish population. They insist they were part of the fort’s history from the time it was built but their contributions were sidelined.

Construction site of Upper Fort Garry prior to the opening ceremony on Saturday October 18, 2014.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Construction site of Upper Fort Garry prior to the opening ceremony on Saturday October 18, 2014.

"There’s all kinds of stories that come out of that fort and the reason we’re doing this one right now is it’s so significant to our history with the signing of the papers of 1870 for Confederation. The focus on that is the reason we’re saving this (fort)," Gray said.

Gray is the dean emeritus at the University of Manitoba Asper School of Business and a prominent Winnipeg community leader with a private consulting business in management.

The board behind a multimillion dollar effort to restore the fort’s significance has nothing to apologize for, Gray said.

"There’s 55-60 years of history in this that’s going to be done over the next 25 years. It’s an ongoing active dynamic. There’s no artifacts, no statues. The park is about interpreting what went on there," Gray said.

The park is to be officially unveiled in a ceremony Saturday.

"In 2007, the Friends met a 107 day challenge and forever saved the site of Upper Fort Garry. Today, it is poised to reclaim its position as one of the most historically important places in Canada. The celebration includes an official unveiling followed by an afternoon of music, storytelling and dancing," says a statement on the event posted to the Friends’ website.

The site is not finished; the unveiling Saturday will celebrate a series of cement planters that mark the locations of the buildings that once made up the fort.

Gray said $14 million has been raised since a group of influential industry and political leaders came together in 2004 to rescue the site and restore it. By next summer, the second phase of the project is slated to open, a $3.5 million steel wall to depict various chapters in the fort’s history.

The fort was demolished in the 1880’s leaving one stone gateway still standing. Since 2004, an oak wall has been erected to either side of the gate, Gray said.

The third phase of the project is a $13 million, 37,000 square foot three storey interpretative centre with classrooms for schools to use will complete the project. There is no date for that yet and the Friends of Upper Fort Garry say they still have to raise the money for the building. It will be unique, with a sloping sod-topped roof, he said.

Métis leader Louis Riel made the fort his headquarters in 1869 until the following year. It was a pivotal tumultuous period in the province’s formation and the resistance resulted in negotiations that brought Manitoba into Confederation.

It was not without violence; the standoff led to the execution of Ontario settler Thomas Scott who moved to the Red River and opposed Métis aspirations.

Canada’s first Prime Minister John A Macdonald sent fellow Scot, Donald A. Smith out to the Red River to quell the resistance. He instead rallied it, encouraged a delegation to Ottawa and helped broker a deal that led to the Manitoba Act of 1870.

The fort was founded in 1822 as a Hudson Bay Company fur trade fort to replace Fort Douglas, which was the focus of Lord Selkirk and the Selkirk Settlers. It was located on the site of Fort Gibraltar, the fur trade post operated by the Bay’s fierce rivals, the North West Company.

After the 1826 flood Upper Fort Garry moved to higher ground and is located at 100 Main Street.

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History

Updated on Friday, October 17, 2014 at 10:02 PM CDT: Corrects typo.

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