Lower Fort Garry

(continuer en français) – Last updated: January 4, 2022

A first Fort Garry existed in Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba. In 1826 it was partially destroyed by a Red River flood, only the gate remains today. As a replacement, the Hudson’s Bay Company built Lower Fort Garry in 1830, 20 miles, 30 kilometres, north of Winnipeg, to serve as a centre for the fur trade. Despite its military appearance, the fort did not see any fighting, although it hosted troops several times in troubled periods.

The Hudson’s Bay Company had a monopoly of the fur trade throughout northern Canada. Animals were trapped by First Nations and Métis people, descendants of the early Coureurs des bois, often Frenchmen who had married Aboriginal women. The catches were then presented to trading posts, which in exchange offered many supplies. Due to the lack of state organization, no currency circulated at that time. In fact, the network of the Company’s posts gradually constituted the beginning of an administrative organisation.

Entering the fortified walls, there is a long and elegant residence, the Big House, preceded by a gallery. Like the fortified walls and several other buildings, the Big House was built in stone, a rare luxury in a country where most of the houses were made of wood.

The visit to the Big House of the chief of post is accompanied by a guide in period costume, who speaks both English and French. The interiors have been reconstructed as close as possible to what they might have been in the 19th century. The sophistication of the installation is surprising, especially since most of the furnishings were transported by boat from Montreal.

The servants’ quarters are located in the basement, with large rooms used both for domestic work and for living and entertainment. Although more rustic, there was an unusual level of comfort at the time.

The fur loft was the first to be built together with the Big House, also in stone. The fur loft was the centre of operations, where the trappers brought their furs, which were then examined by expert employees.

The furs were then stored in the attic where they were prepared before being packaged for transport. The hides were pressed into large bales or barrels.

The transport was carried out on York boats containing up to 6 tons of cargo. They sailed north across Lake Winnipeg and then down the rivers to York Factory on the shore of Hudson Bay. From there, the ships would sail to London or Montreal.

In exchange for the furs, trappers could obtain supplies from the store, which was intended to cover all the needs of the fur hunt, then of the pioneers who gradually settled in the surrounding area.

An additional warehouse was built to receive goods arriving from England or Montreal to support the colony around Winnipeg until the arrival of the railway in the late 19th century.

To house the employees who operated the fort and were involved in canoe transportation, a building was constructed with numerous sleeping accommodations, the men’s house.

First Nations people came to the Fort to trade furs and other goods for what was available in the Company’s store. Some of them began working for the Company and settled nearby.

The Company began large-scale farming around the fort, the farmers and their families settled outside the walls in small houses that soon formed a sort of village.

One of the farms can also be visited and here too there is a recreation of the living conditions of the time when, despite the presence of the fort’s store, the farmers themselves produced some of the things they needed, such as clothes.

The facilities at Lower Fort Garry are visited during the summer months with the support of several costumed guides, explaining and interpreting the gestures of the bygone days to visitors.

The blacksmith’s workshop has been reconstructed in such a way as to give an idea of its importance in the past, whereas its role has practically disappeared today.

For decades, Lower Fort Garry supported the fur trade over an immense territory, centralizing the pelts collected by a series of other forts along the waterways. Officially the land grant was transferred from England to the Canadian Confederation in 1870, shortly after its birth. However, the Hudson’s Bay Company continued its commercial activity and it was not until 1951 that it gave up the Fort in order to make it an historic site.

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14 comments

    • Congou, I asked myself the same question. The shape of the boxes reminded me of those used for Lipton Tea. Good lead, it seems that Congou is a variety of Chinese tea. It is true that we are dealing with related subjects, serendipity (thank you for this recent addition to my vocabulary).

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  1. We visited the fort in 2019. We were impressed by the costumed staff who spent time answering my stupid questions. I can’t remember why, but touring the big house was unavailable on the day we were there. Thanks for sharing those pics. They filled in something we didn’t see on our visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment is funny. For distances, around 900 km, 660 mi, there are still no easy solutions today. York Factory still exists but as a historical site to visit. To get there, there are several days by train or plane, and about two hours by motorboat. Not the usual historic site.

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      • well here distances are common too between places. I wondered how the trains stack up because i know you can travel east to west or vice versa but I wasnt aware of trains that would head up north. to get off the beaten track a bit in Canada I guess means to hire a car.

        Liked by 1 person

      • If you want to come and explore the area, I suggest you check out Churchill, Manitoba. That’s where the train goes, in several days. For York Factory, you would need to stop a little before Churchill.

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