Lower Fort Garry in Manitoba, which is about 40 minutes north of Winnipeg, is an amazing place to visit.
The history of Lower Fort Garry
But what is Lower Fort Garry exactly? Lower Fort Garry has been many things over the years:
- The oldest stone fort built in Canada;
- A prison;
- An automobile club;
- A psychiatric hospital;
- A police training center;
- And the place where many Manitoban treaties were signed 150 years ago.
Today, Lower Fort Garry is “just” a National Historic site, managed by Parks Canada. And who says Parks Canada says red chairs!
Visiting Lower Fort Garry
We got a private tour of Lower Fort Garry, because on a rainy Sunday, there were not many visitors (we arrived at lunchtime). We did not pay because we had the annual Parks Canada pass, but if you don’t have a Parks Canada pass, the visit of Lower Fort Garry will cost you $12.50 per person in 2022. You will find all the prices and information on the official website!
The guided tour of Lower Fort Garry lasts between an hour and an hour and a half and is super informative. It starts with an history of the Hudson’s Bay Company. This company is one of the oldest in the world still in operation: it was founded in 1670. It handled trade between North America and the Crown of England… And although it is now owned by a private chain, the Bay stores are everywhere in Canada (even though they are all closing now).
The Hudson’s Bay Company had branches all over the world, and the animals chosen for the coat of arms varied depending on the country: there are elephants for India, for example! The artist responsible for the Canadian coat of arms had never set foot in Canada and had to draw the animals from London… The beaver therefore looks more like a turtle than a beaver.
Lower Fort Garry closes for the winter time and reopens in the spring, but the buildings are only accessible with a guide. In the summer, however, the grounds and the buildings are open and costumed interpreters bring history to life. The choice was made to interpret the site in 1851: that means that the furniture, the decor, the costumes… Everything tries to match as much as possible the year in question.
Lower Fort Garry’s Buildings
So because we visited Lower Fort Garry in the spring time, we weren’t able to enter all the buildings. We started by visiting the farmer’s house and the forge.
Lower Fort Garry’s general store is absolutely brilliant: fabrics, shoes, porcelain, spices, guns… There was everything in a beautiful organized mess. It took a total time of 18 months between the moment the items left England and their arrival at the store in Manitoba. 18 months!
Right next to the general store is the warehouse.
On the ground floor of the Lower Fort Garry warehouse, there is tea (hundreds of kilos of tea). But above… that’s where the furs are stored. Imagine a dark room, just under the roof, with hundreds of furs everywhere, on the floor, on the ceiling, on the walls, furs from all possible and unimaginable animals in North America: bears, bison, beavers, lynx, foxes, wolves, weasels , skunks, ermines, badgers, cougars, wolverines (a super wild animal, which looks like a cross between a weasel and a bear) and some more…
The guide was very knowledgeable about all the furs: the beaver’s fur is waterproof, that’s why it was used to make hats in Europe, Queen Victoria loved ermine like all royalty and fun fact, the skunk is the softest animal.
The fur room was extremely impressive but it made me a little claustrophobic too… not to mention the animal cause, that’s why I didn’t take pictures of the furs.
We must not forget that Lower Fort Garry is a fort… therefore it has a military purpose. No one has ever attacked the Fort but the bastions are there, at the four cardinal points.
The Governor’s House had just reopened at Lower Fort Garry after a year of renovation.
Historically, Lower Fort Garry is also the place where in 1871 Treaty 1 was signed between the very recent federal government (the Canadian state was then four years old) and the chiefs of seven Aboriginal tribes. This treaty established the division of land in Manitoba between Aboriginals and settlers… and is still criticized today.
The visit to Lower Fort Garry is really great if you have the Parks Canada pass or if you want to learn more about the history of Canada. There are several other historical sites in Manitoba that focus on the fur trade and the life of the first settlers, I will be sure to share all of them with you when I have visited them!
Other Manitoba things to do and see?
– the Canadian Fossil Discovery Center in Morden
– Birds Hill Park
– Nopiming Provincial Park
– Spend a day in Neepawa
– Winter glamping and dog sledding
– 12 things to do less an hour away from Winnipeg
– 10 foods to try in Manitoba
– the Pinawa Old Dam
– a guide of Rural Manitoba Museums
– Lower Fort Garry and the Fur Trade