Construction began on Tuesday on the re-imagining of the Battle of Seven Oaks Monument National Historic Site in Winnipeg's West Kildonan neighbourhood.

The site commemorates a battle that took place on June 19, 1816, that pitted Robert Semple, governor of the Red River colony, and his men of the Hudson's Bay Company against Métis leader Cuthbert Grant and his men from the North West Company.

The 15-minute battle ended with Semple and 20 of his men dead, while only one man from the North West Company brigade was killed.

The concern with the current monument standing in the park — originally constructed in 1891 and dedicated to Semple and his men — is that it only represents one perspective on the battle.

The aim with the revamp of the park is to show multiple perspectives and make the park into an inviting space. 

Hands-on learning

Battle of Seven Oaks monument mock up

The project will cost $350,000, funding was split by federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as the Manitoba Métis Federation and The Winnipeg Foundation. (Seven Oaks Monument Committee)

The idea started back in 2007 with a class of fourth-grade students from Governor Semple School who were curious about their school's namesake.

The class of about 25 students worked with a Winnipeg historian and went down to the Manitoba Archives to uncover the truths of the battle — and they were hooked.

The kids started off by writing and performing a play about the battle on their school grounds, but then they wanted to take their research one step further. 

"It was a highly engaging and hands-on kind of experience for the kids," Gary Jackson, chair of the Seven Oaks Monument Committee, told CBC's Radio Noon.

Jackson calls this project an example of "learning coming alive."

The students then began working with a local architect, Heather Cram, in 2007 to create a better way of telling the story of the battle and, in her words, now it's "finally happening."

Cram said it was great to have the opportunity to work on the park on the corner of Main Street and Rupertsland Avenue, having grown up in West Kildonan herself.

"I took the information that I got from the kids and I integrated it into the design of the park itself," Cram explained.

The design of the park will now incorporate a series of panels that details the location's history and one final panel to tell the story of the Governor Semple School students that worked so hard to ensure their dream for the park came to fruition.

Eight long years later

The project is expected to be completed by June 19, 2016, at a cost of $350,000.

Funding was split by federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as the Manitoba Métis Federation and The Winnipeg Foundation.

The once-fourth-grade students were invited to the breaking-ground ceremony at the park on Tuesday, just weeks before they graduate from high school.

"Today at the sod turning, one of the children turned up … and she said, 'This changed my life,'" Jackson said.

He said the project gave the students a chance to be a part of their community; where they go from there is up to them. 

"History is an active thing, it's not something from the past," he said. "We need to be a part of it and shape it as we move forward."

Panels for the new Seven Oaks Monument

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