June 1, 2012
FRIENDS OF UPPER FORT GARRY
Steel reminders of Winnipeg’s Upper Fort Garry
The Governor’s Gate of Winnipeg’s Upper Fort Garry is pretty much all that remains of the imposing stone structure built to bolster the presence of the Hudson Bay Company 200 years ago.
The site of the fort is now being honoured with the construction of Upper Fort Garry Heritage Park and Interpretive Centre. To mark the locations of the original walls of the buildings, designers are using lengths of weathered steel.
The east wall of the fort was demolished in 1883 and the remaining buildings and walls — except the Governor’s Gate — were dismantled soon after. Much of the fort’s building materials were re-used and recycled. Salvaged limestone was used to construct government buildings and the dismantled wood was sold for $100, to be used as kindling.
In 1897, after considerable public interest in preserving what was left of Upper Fort Garry, the Hudson Bay Company donated the gates and the fort’s remaining lands to the city, to serve as “a public park forever.”
The current three-and-a half-acre site stretches along the city’s Main Street from Broadway to Assiniboine Avenue. The new park will not be a literal re-creation of the original fort, but a historic park designed to mark its significance.
“We’re simulating the walls of the original structure using steel trellises overhead and low steel retaining walls to indicate the original locations,” says Garry Hilderman, one of the principals of architectural firm Hilderman Thomas Frank Cram and a member of the board of directors of the Friends of Upper Fort Garry.
“We’ve got pretty good documentation of where the original structures were located, because the Hudson Bay Company was very good with documenting its structures. From our archaeological investigations we found some of the foundations of the original walls that backed up the historical record.”
The west wall of the fort will stand out among the rest. It’s the 12-foot-high Heritage Wall, a 385-foot span of weathered steel one-third of an inch thick, that will elaborate on the site’s centuries of history. The wall surface is multi-faceted, made of layers of over-lapping steel.
The wall tells the story of the site through illustrations, achieved by selective plasma cutting through the various steel layers.
The Heritage Wall was designed by Cohlmeyer Architecture Ltd. and the construction contract has been awarded to Winnipeg’s Capitol Steel, a company specializing in bridge construction.
Manlab Interactive designed both the steel illustrations and the high-tech aspects of the wall, which includes a host of speakers and a grid of 6,000 25-millimetre-wide LED lights embedded five inches apart into the steel.
Each light displays a full spectrum of colour and will be programmed to animate the wall in a range of moving displays along its length, depicting such historical sights as bison running across the plain.
A nine-by-24-foot high-definition screen will provide additional educational content.
An Interpretive Centre will eventually rise over the top of the wall, featuring an immense triangular roof, covered with native prairie grasses.
Construction of the park is proceeding on schedule according to a five-year plan as blocks of government funding and other pledges are made available. However, Hilderman says that the park will be substantially completed by the end of next year.
“The original demolition of the fort was condemned as an act of short-sightedness not long after the demolition occurred,” he says.
“This project will reclaim some of what was lost.”
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