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Manitoba History: A Note on the Destruction of Upper Fort Garry

by John Selwood
Department of Geography, University of Winnipeg

Manitoba History, Number 4, 1982

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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Although the origins of Upper Fort Garry have been reasonably well documented, there are few satisfactory accounts of its destruction. The reasons generally given for its removal are at best superficial and misleading. There is even disagreement over when demolition occurred. [1] Now that the Hudson’s Bay Company’s records are more readily available for examination, further light can be thrown on the subject.

The most common reason given for removing the Fort has been that it allowed for the straightening of Main Street, but this would not appear to be the case. The Fort was in a sad state of disrepair and the Company’s officers in Winnipeg had been pressing for new quarters for their operations at least as early as 1878. [2] Furthermore, the quarters were cramped and unsuited to the Company’s rapidly growing general trade and land business, and the Fort’s location was too peripheral to the village of Winnipeg to compete effectively with other enterprises. [3] Had the Fort been in better condition and more adaptable to the Company’s changing needs it might have survived.

However, shortly after C. J. Brydges, the Company’s newly appointed Land Commissioner arrived in Winnipeg in 1879, he convinced London headquarters that much improved facilities were necessary for the efficient and profitable operation of the Company’s affairs. Brydges received permission to build new premises at the corner of York and Main Street, closer to the village centre. Because building materials were expensive and in short supply, Brydges recommended that to reduce construction costs stone from the old Fort be used as foundation material for the new structure. [4] The Fort’s walls and bastions were duly demolished, the new premises constructed and opened for business in October 1881. [5] With their opening, the Fort’s remaining buildings became redundant.

Fort Garry Gate
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index

Although part of Brydges’ original argument for relocation had been that abandonment of the Fort site would permit the straightening of Main Street and its development as a major thoroughfare, there was initially no firm commitment to this course of action. [6] Only after it became apparent that an offer of land in the vicinity of the Fort for a railway terminus would not be taken up was the first proposal revived. [7] Evidently, the realignment of Main Street was not a critical factor in the decision to abandon the Fort—especially when to do so did not demand removal of all of its buildings.

Although most buildings were considered to be of little value the land had much greater potential. A sub-division plan was prepared for the Fort site and the land disposed of at auction in 1882. [8] Four of the Fort’s buildings were moved down to the Company’s mill on the banks of the Assiniboine, [9] but others, including the former Governor’s residence, remained standing until 1888 when the Company, having repossessed the land, had them torn down. [10] All that now remains is the rebuilt rear entrance portal to the Fort on a small plot of land donated to the City by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1897. [11]

Notes

1. Some examples are: George Bryce. “The Five Forts of Winnipeg,” Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Vol. III. Sec. 2, 1885. pp. 135-145; A. M. Henderson, “From Fort Douglas to the Forks.” Papers of the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba, Series III. No. 23, 1966-7, pp. 15-32; Alan Artibise, Winnipeg: An Illustrated History. James Lorimer & Co., Toronto, 1977, see p. 56. The most useful accounts are contained in Margaret Arnett MacLeod, “Winnipeg and the HBC,” Beaver Outfit 280. June 1949. pp. 3-7 and “The Company in Winnipeg,” Beaver Outfit 271, Sept 1940, pp. 6-11.

2. Hudson’s Bay Company Archives [HBCA], A12/46, f.236d. James Grahame to W. Armit, Secretary, 19 June 1878.

3. HBCA, A12/18, f.21, C. J. Brydges to Armit, 24 May 1879.

4. HBCA, A1-2/18, f.134, Brydges to Armit, 18 August 1879.

5. HBCA, A12/20, f.336, Brydges to Armit, 24 October 1881.

6. Brydges did not receive permission to build the Assiniboine Bridge, an integral part of his street widening proposal, until August 1881. See HBCA, Al2/19. f.341d, Brydges to Armit, 17 August 1880.

7. Brydges was urging removal of the Fort in 1879 to free up land for possible railway purposes. See HBCA, A12/118. f.134, Brydges to Armit 18 August 1879.

8. HBCA, A12/21. f.65, Brydges to Armit, 4 Mar. 1882.

9. HBCA, A12/26, f.93-94, copy of letter from Messrs. Bain. Perdue, and Robinson to J. Wrigley, 15 March 1887.

10. HBCA, A12/26, f.359, Brydges to Armit, 16 April 1888.

11. HBCA, A12L140/2/2, f.12. C. C. Chipman, Commissioner to W. Ware, Secretary. 24 September 1897.

Page revised: 1 January 2011

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