The Last Days of Upper Fort Garry

The Last Days of Upper Fort Garry

By George Siamandas

Only one gateway stands as a reminder of the days of old Fort Garry. downtown Winnipeg’s Upper Fort Garry, was demolished March 26, 1888.

Upper Fort Garry was built in 1835. Previously there had been a fort on the site that had been damaged by the 1826 flood. Other previous forts near the Forks included Ft. Rouge thought to have been built by LaVerendreye’s sons between 1733 and 1738. The Northwest Company built Fort Gibraltar in 1806. In 1816 Gibraltar was destroyed. After the 1821 union between the HBC and the NWC there was need for a new fort and thus the first Fort Garry was built in 1822 entirely of stone measuring about 200 by 240 feet. The man who had come to Red River to oversee the union was Nicholas Garry and the new fort took his name.

In 1831 GOV George Simpson was concerned about Metis unrest and decided that a better location for a fort would be near the Selkirk Settlers at St Andrews and thus Lower Fort Garry or the Stone Fort was built. But the location never really caught on and the forks remained the centre of activity. Thus in 1835 the fort at Upper Fort Garry was rebuilt. This time 240 by 280 feet and with four round towers. In 1850 the walls were extended north almost doubling the size and a new gatepost was erected on the north and south (The one that remains today.) The walls now made of square cut oak logs were of double construction with earth filling the centre.

WHY THEY DEMOLISHED FORT GARRY
The fort had always projected well east into the path of main St, which had to dart around it. In 1876 when the city decided it was time to straighten out Main St where it would connect to the future main St bridge, the days of the fort were gone. Little by little starting with Govt House the buildings were demolished. Half of the Fort was built on to what became Main St and a small corner of it was located on the East Side of main. Behind the walls was a cluster of buildings that had grown over time including the governor’s residence, a Court House, a Gaol, warehouses, stores, and granaries.

LITTLE OPPOSITION TO THE DEMOLITION OF THE FORT
At a time when the business of the place was to evolve form a fur trade post to a city with a future, no one spoke up for keeping it like in the olden days. In 1882 the Manitoba Historical Society tried to stop the demolition but it went ahead.

In 1906, with EL Drewery’s support, the Hudson Bay Co donated the remaining gate to the city. In 1979, after some archaeological work, there seemed to be interest in rebuilding the walls. The Downtown Winnipeg Assoc. spearheaded a campaign to recreate a park with an interpretive centre, with the future hope of recreating some of the early buildings. It never happened. In 1996 when Main St was rebuilt some of the early foundation walls were discovered in the middle of Main St., nothing was done. They were covered over with limestone and concrete.

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