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This article was published 17/10/2014 (1039 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 1.4-hectare 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.
"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.
He said the Friends of Upper Fort Garry were aware of the Scots' concerns and had returned a cheque from the Fort Garry Horse, a Winnipeg regiment also founded by a Scot.
"They weren't happy with what we were doing and they wanted their money back," Gray said.
Retired commanding officer Gary Solar said the cheque was small, about $2,700, and had been collected through individual donations from soldiers and veterans.
"When we met with them, we said the money could stay if they changed their plan. The fort's been there 183 years. You can't just take one year out of the history. When you start rewriting history, what's that called? Revisionism. Now the fort's a key piece of Métis history." Solar said. "A number of major funders are really unhappy about this."
The park is to be officially unveiled in a ceremony today.
"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 today 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 1880s, leaving one stone gateway still standing. Since 2004, an oak wall has been erected on 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 school use. 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.