Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fort Rouge's 275th

This year marks not only the 140th anniversary of Winnipeg's incorporation, but also -- as Bartley Kives of the Winnipeg Free Press put it -- "the 275th anniversary of the first white guys setting foot" there.

The 275th anniversary of explorer La Vérendrye's arrival at The Forks is this year. Michel Loiselle (front) and La Compagnie de la Vérendrye plan to celebrate the occasion.
The Compagnie de La Vérendryre, re-enacting the
expedition's arrival in Winnipeg. 
Photo: Ruth Bonneville, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1738, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye, paddled up the Rivière Rouge or Red River to the mouth of the Assiniboine.  While La Vérendrye and his sons pushed westward, Louis Damours de Louvières built a fur-trading post for him there which soon acquired the name of Fort Rouge.  This first post was abandonned within the decade and only briefly revived in the 1750s, but its site would in time become that of Fort Gibraltar, later renamed Fort Garry, which would evolve into the City of Winnipeg in 1873.

Kives's article in the Winnipeg Free Press provides a good overview of Fort Rouge's history.  He quotes a few local Francophones who point to the foundational significance of the event, but also Adele Perry, of the University of Manitoba, who offers a caveat.  Though La Vérendrye's arrival heightened the area's place within a broader colonial trade network, we should not attribute too much significance to it.  The forks of the Rouge and Assiniboine had served as a gathering place for indigenous people for some 6,000 years.  "People in this part of the world had an extraordinarily sophisticated system of trade that was continent-wide in reach," explained Perry.  But Europeans  kept better records.  "La Vérendrye has a place in popular memory because of those records, but it behooves us to be a little more searching," she said.

The Compagnie de La Vérendrye, a Winnipeg-based reenactment unit, has put together a very attractive web site on Fort Rouge's 275th anniversary.  The commemorative programme seems quite elaborate.


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