Birthplace of Manitoba to be turned into heritage park, interpretive centre

Work is set to begin on transforming the land around Upper Fort Garry, an area known as the birthplace of Manitoba, into a heritage park and interpretive centre.

Work is set to begin on transforming the land around Upper Fort Garry, an area known as the birthplace of Manitoba, into a heritage park and interpretive centre.

On Wednesday, Mayor Sam Katz's cabinet agreed to sell the land to a group called Friends of Upper Fort Garry, which has been lobbying and raising money for that purpose since January 2008.

"So much happened there that transformed this country. So I think it's very rare that a community has the chance to reclaim its actual, physical birthplace," said Jerry Gray, chair of the group, noting the transfer of the land from the city will happen for the token price of $1.

Council is expected to give final approval to the deal later this month, and clearing of a building belonging to the city on the site should begin in June, said Gray.

Plans for the park include:

  • A symbolic representation of the fort and the buildings once enclosed within its walls.
  • Installations of art and other creative works within the park to illustrate 19th century life at Upper Fort Garry.
  • Outdoor gathering spaces for historical events and programs.
  • An interpretive centre with space to host meetings and exhibitions.

The site, at Main Street and Assiniboine Avenue, near the historic trading site of the forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, should be ready to receive visitors in about three years, said Gray.

Erected in 1835 under orders from George Simpson, then-governor of the Hudson Bay Company, Upper Fort Garry served as the centre for trade in the west and was the site of significant historic events.

Upper Fort Garry was the administrative centre of Rupertsland, a massive mercantile empire that stretched from east of Hudson Bay to the Arctic Ocean to Alaska to the Pacific coast as far south as Oregon.

In 1869, Rupertsland was transferred to the Canadian government. It was inside the fort's walls where, during the winter of 1869-1870, a 25-year-old Louis Riel formed a provisional government and presented Canada with a bill of rights that became the Manitoba Act, 1870.

In 1883, the east wall of the fort was demolished to straighten Main Street. Shortly after, the remaining buildings and walls were dismantled.

Today, only the gate remains of the once imposing stone structure. The land around it has been used over the years as a bus depot and soccer field, but it will soon become a world-class attraction, said Gray.

"A lot of people don't even know the site is there, it's tucked behind a Petro-Canada [service] station," he said. "But when we're done, everyone's going to see it there, I'll tell you that."

gray estimates the cost to create the park will be in the range of $12 to $13 million. The group has been fundraising for the project for more than a year and has collected $10 million, which was a mark set by the city in order for the land transfer to happen.

For more information about the group and its plans, to donate to the fundraising campaign, or to view pictures and read about the history of Upper Fort Garry, click on the link at the top right of this page.