Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/5/2015 (2432 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I spent last weekend in the heart of Texas – a heart heavy with loss from flash floods – only to return home this week to a sense of sadness about the place we know, for reasons both geographic and philanthropic, as the heart of the continent.
On the surface, my sadness is the result of the city approving a surface parking lot; albeit "temporary."
I’m not referring to the wider philosophical debate about surface parking lots in our downtown, although that discussion is an important corollary. Specifically, my sadness is about where that gravel-strewn eyesore is to be built and what it suggests about our lack of pride of place.
And, by extension, about our lack of pride in who we are as Manitobans.
What evoked that deeper dismay was the news that people who call themselves the Friends of Upper Fort Garry got approval from the city to build a temporary parking lot on historical land that, ironically, the group valiantly rescued from being used as a parking lot.
Eights year ago, I wrote a series of columns championing the initially floundering efforts by a group of "friends", comprised of our province’s most politically and financially powerful people, to stop the construction of an overshadowing highrise apartment complex on the edge of what was left of the fort’s footprint.
By that time, progress without pride of place had already caused much of the property to be paved over, built on and generally desecrated.
At ground level, in fact, the site’s symbolically sacred historical significance would have been all but forgotten, if not for the sparing of its iconic limestone gate and an accompanying plaque explaining the role of the former Hudson Bay Company fur fort in local and national history.
Last year, in an article written for the Free Press, one of the Friends, University of Manitoba history professor emeritus Gerald Friesen, summarized the place’s significance: "This 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."
Freisen’s account went on to detail a vision for the property, centred on using what has been designated as a provincial park as a way for school children to learn about our history by standing on it. But it needs more money to be completed. More than twice the $13 million in promises it gathered through pledges under pressure of a city-imposed deadline in 2007.
That inflated price tag, in my view, has less to do with added construction costs and more to do with the inability of the Friends to mount a meaningful fundraising campaign since their initial success. Hence the need for the one giant step back, one baby step forward, parking lot that, in its two-year temporary existence, is projected to raise only a fraction of what the site needs to be fully completed.
It should never have come to this, not even with the Friends facing the philanthropic black hole that was, and still is, the nearby Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Other organizations, from the United Way to hospitals, universities and arts organizations, have fundraised tens of millions of dollars over the ensuing years while the Friends seemed to fly under a white flag.
Was it because they didn’t believe they could compete? Probably. As prideful of place as the Friends are, my sense of it is that they surrendered to the sense that most Winnipeggers don’t share the pride of place that Upper Fort Garry Park is meant to teach and celebrate.
Yes, we have pockets of pride, such as Festival du Voyager, Folklarama, Winnipeg Jets or Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
But those are diffuse, not collective, examples of pride of place.
The pride I’m talking about is the flag-flying, history-celebrating, I’m-a-Texan kind of pride I witnessed last weekend in Austin, the live music capital of the world, as they call it. And, even more relevantly, the same pride I saw on a previous visit to San Antonio, where The Alamo and the gate that still stands define Texans’ pride in where they come from and what they stand for.
Much the way Upper Fort Garry should. But without the storming of the walls and Disneyfiction of Davy Crockett that goes with it, of course.
I don’t know what will ever make those of us who live in the heart of the continent pound our chests about the place we live.
But I know what will help.
A temporary surface parking lot.
But only if the Friends of Upper Fort Garry use that humiliating request of the city to start a meaningful, full-blown fundraising campaign.
And only if we proudly give what we can to help them.