Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/11/2014 (2584 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park reminds us of an important moment in 1870 when people of this region looked beyond differences rooted in language, religion, and national origin, created a representative government, and chose to join the Canadian Confederation as its first new province, Manitoba.
In the campaign of the past decade that saved the site of the park, hundreds of people donated to the cause. Many citizens, including members of interested heritage communities, joined discussions about what the park might look like and what messages might be communicated to different types of visitors.
They made two convincing points: Manitoba was born on this very plot of land, within the buildings and on the grounds of Upper Fort Garry; and the decisions taken in the fort made possible the extension of Canada, then a young and small community, into a transcontinental nation.
The advocates also agreed other important stories should be told in the school lessons organized around the fort's renewed prominence. These stories are being worked out in collaboration with teachers and the province's curriculum planners. Six have been selected for particular attention in the next few years:
-- The story of indigenous peoples in the context of The Forks and the fort.
-- The stories of the newcomers, including the French, English and Scots who founded trading posts, the colonists sent by Scotland's Lord Selkirk, and the many country-born families that moved to Red River.
-- The story of transportation, since the fort was located at the heart of a trade network that stretched across the Prairies. This theme can be integrated into social studies, global issues, and economics classes by raising questions about parallels between the city's past and future share in the movement of goods on this continent.
-- The stories of mixed-heritage families who identified themselves not as French or Scot or any other European national label but as people of this country -- as Rupertslanders, country-born, and Métis. Teachers of grades 4 to 6 say their students will be especially interested in the daily lives of these people in the fort and the settlement.
-- The story of relations between people and their surroundings, including the production of food, clothing and shelter, all of which raise questions about environment and resources that are as relevant now as in the 19th century.
-- The story of the transfer of 1870, when the Hudson's Bay Co. gave up its land and a group of French-speaking Métis under the leadership of Louis Riel seized control of the fort. Riel had to share his power as the months passed because all the parishes elected representatives who then met in the fort as a legislative assembly. The 28 honourable gentlemen decided that Red River should become part of Canada. The details of this story have been debated for generations: may the debates continue.
These issues, which speak to the very nature of the province, will be considered in Manitoba classrooms during the next few years and will encourage teachers and students to consider "many voices" in their work.
But what of the other visitors? They will find the new provincial park is not a "living history museum" such as Lower Fort Garry or Fort Gibraltar. It is a complex design in an urban setting, a destination after a visit to The Forks, an intriguing scene for the passenger in bus or car, a place for lunch.
The governor's gate, sole survivor of the original structure, is a blunt reminder of the fort's military function. The building footprints of Tyndall stone establish the size and influence of its commerce. And, when it is erected next year, the heritage wall, four metres high, 122 metres long, will reinforce the feeling of life within an imposing fortification.
The park is closer to abstract art than to literal reconstruction, even though archaeological and historical research support every inch of the site plan. It evokes feelings about the past by implication, not by reconstruction.
What message does the park convey? It supports teaching about Manitoba in our classrooms by serving as a witness to events that happened on this very site and in these very buildings. And it gives special attention to two thoughts: This is the birthplace of the province; and the decision to enter the Canadian Confederation, made on this site by a body representative of all Red River, was crucial to the creation of a transcontinental nation, Canada.
Gerald Friesen is professor emeritus, history department, St John's College, University of Manitoba and a member of the Friends of Upper Fort Garry board of directors.