Monday, October 5, 2020

To the Forks : East St. Paul to Winnipeg

It was a cool, breezy, and sunny morning as we made our way towards downtown Winnipeg today.  

As we continued down the Chief Peguis Parkway we crossed the historic Kildonan Settlers Bridge over the Red River.  This bridge commemorates the early pioneers who accompanied Lord Selkirk's expedition to the region in 1817.  These settlers founded what would become the parish, and later the Rural Municipality of Kildonan, which was named for the Scottish region where the pioneers originated. These brave and intrepid people built the Red River Settlement on the west bank of the river, and this eventually grew into what is now the City of Winnipeg.  

Banners were placed along the bridge which displayed the names of the families in Lord Selkirk's expedition.  At the far end of the bridge we came to another large marble monument to Chief Peguis. Chief Peguis led a band of Ojibwe People from the Sault Ste Marie area to Winnipeg in 1790.  When the Kildonan Settlers arrived in 1812 the Chief helped, guided, and protected the new settlers, saving them from perishing during their first years along the Red River. 

Along the Chief Peguis Trail we've been seeing statues of wolves.  At the monument we learned that Peguis's totem was a wolf, and when he signed Treaty No. 1 ceding lands in the area to the settlers, he used the wolf as his mark.

After we crossed the bridge we walked around the Kildonan Golf Course, along the side of a busy, six lane road.  We were still finding the traffic and the city a bit overwhelming after our time in nature.  It was a relief to follow the trail into the beautiful Kildonan Park.  This urban green space was constructed in 1909 as the second largest park in the city of Winnipeg.  It was, and still is known for its pastoral beauty, manicured lawns, mature elm and cottonwood trees, beautiful landscaping, and small ponds and waterways.  

As we walked through the park on this warm, sunny, Sunday morning, it was full of people cycling, jogging, walking with their dogs and small children, and enjoying the day.  We stopped at some of the historical plaques throughout the park to learn about some of the history.   The first was a monument to Chief Peguis.

A little farther along we came to a small, round hut with a tall, conical roof covered in mysterious symbols.  We'd found the Witch's Hut!  Sadly, it was closed for the season, but there was a small waterway outside and several bird feeders, which were very busy.  

Along the stream we spotted a small flock of molting Green-winged Teals, male Wood Ducks, Mallards, and Canada Geese.  At the feeders there were about a dozen Black-capped Chickadees, a handful of White-breasted Nuthatches, and a Downy Woodpecker.  We were happy to see several families out enjoying the birds and talking about them with their children, as well as a few photographers.

After stopping to enjoy the birds for a few minutes we continued down the busy, paved walkway along the ring road that circled the park.  The crunch of the coppery leaves under our feet as we scuffed through them was very satisfying, and brought back childhood memories of fall.  We made our way through the sun-soaked park to the edge of the Red River, which was sparkling in the bright sun. 

As we made our way along the shore we passed the brightly painted and mural covered Rainbow Stage.  This interestingly shaped building, which was named after its arched wooden roof, is the longest continuously operating outdoor theatre in Canada.

On the far side of Kildonan Park we emerged into an affluent neighbourhood with tree lined streets.  There the Scotia-St Cross Heritage Walk led us along the historic Red River from Kildonan Park to St. John's Park.  As we walked the sidewalks we occasionally passed historic markers and interpretive signs describing events and places of historical and cultural significance along the way.  

One of these markers commemorated the Battle of the Seven Oaks.  The battle on June 19, 1816 was a defining moment in the pre-Confederation history of Canada.  Escalating disputes over the trade of pemmican, an important food source for Métis, led to the battle.  The Hudson's Bay Company's Governor Robert Semple led a group of 31 armed men onto the prairies, where they clashed with an undetermined number of Métis under the command of Cuthbert Grant.  Semple and his men were killed, forcing the HBC to address Indigenous land claims and conduct formal land surveys.


The Heritage Walk wound through neighborhoods for quite some time before bringing us down to the river on a narrow, crushed stone dust trail.  We followed the riverbank for a while, past several tents sheltering homeless people, and a playground, before coming back to the main road at the beautiful Holy Trinity Ukranian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral.  Its domed spires and colourful mosaic were interesting and awe inspiring.

As we continued past the Cathedral on the main road we pretty much lost all trail signage.  We followed the directions on the Great Trail App, which led us back through a parking lot, past a tent city of Winnipeg's homeless, and back down to the river.  We followed the footpath through several more neighborhoods and along back alleyways between houses.  We were beginning to think our surroundings were a little dodgy, and that without signs we may have gone astray.  Just when we were about to head back up to the main road and take it in to downtown, we met a very nice couple out walking their three dogs who kindly offered to escort us to the edge of the downtown area.

It was a lovely welcome to Winnipeg, and we enjoyed hearing their stories of the area, and of their experiences hiking the world.  It turned out that they were involved with building and maintaining the Great Trail in the area, and they said the route had recently been shifted to the southern side of the river where we were yesterday, which explained the lack of markers.  It was a bit frustrating to once again find ourselves 'off' the official trail while following the Great Trail App and online Map, but it was a nice approach to the city, and we greatly appreciated the escort!

When we reached 'The Point' or Douglas Point, we found a wide, paved, and well landscaped bike path that was busy with people.  

The pathway was lined with art exhibits and historical plaques, the first of which was for Fort Douglas.  

This was the site of the first Red River Settlement, and the first fort associated with the Hudson's Bay Company in the vicinity of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.  It was built in 1813 by Scottish and Irish settlers under the leadership of Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk.  

Fort Douglas was located just down river from the North West Company's Fort Gibralter.  After the Battle of the Seven Oaks in 1816, during the conflict between the HBC and the NWC, Fort Douglas was captured by the Métis and employees of the NWC.  Selkirk's men soon retook the fort, leading to a period of peace which lasted until the HBC and NWC amalgamated in 1812.  At that point the HBC moved their center of operations to Fort Gibraltar, which they renamed Fort Garry.

A little farther along the Waterfront Drive we came to the Scots Monument, which was erected in 1993, 175 years after the Scots arrived in the area under the leadership of Lord Selkirk.  The monument depicts a stylized Scotish thistle, the emblem of Scotland.  Behind the monument was a small Cairn of Tears with a poem describing the experience of the settlers as they were leaving Scotland. Apparently there is a twin cairn in Scotland.

Eventually the well landscaped and busy bicycle trail took us past the Museum for Human Rights which we had watched for years being built as we passed through the region on the VIA Rail train.  Unfortunately, even though we hope to stay for a few days here in Winnipeg the Museum is only operating with limited hours and so we are unable to visit it.  

Soon after the Great Trail brought us to The Forks, which is an historically and culturally important district at the center of Winnipeg.  It is located right at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers, and is now recognized as a National Historic Site.  Archeological evidence shows the site was first occupied by an early civilization 6,000 years ago, and more recently it was an important place for meeting and trading among Indigenous groups, including Nakoda (Assiniboins), Cree and Anishinabee (Ojibwe), and Dakota.

The first Europeans arrived at the Forks in canoes in 1738 as part of La Vérendrye expedition.  Shortly afterwards Vérendrye built Fort Rouge, which was the first of many forts erected in the area, which became central to the fur trade. Together the forts made up the Red River Colony, which was strategically located near the Aboriginal meeting place at the confluence of the rivers.  It was also on a major transportation route that offered abundant food resources, including fish, waterfowl, game, and bison.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's the Forks became a major railway hub.  At this time the Canadian government began actively promoting immigration, settlement, and railway development across the Prairies, and Winnipeg became known as the "Gateway to the Canadian West."  Many migrants passed through the railway terminals at the Forks, ultimately changing and diversifying the cultural landscape of the city and the Prairies. 


The Forks we walked into today was a vibrant public space with an indoor market, shops and restaurants, a large outdoor park where people can gather for celebrations, recreation, and to meet one another.  There was a well used skateboard park, art exhibits created by local artists, and the National Historic Site.  All of this was set along the banks of the rivers, and against a background of old and new stone buildings.

As we stopped at the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company for a cinnamon bun and coffee, and to just relax and enjoy the warm, sunny afternoon we felt like we were in familiar territory.  We have made the four day journey on VIA Rail's train 'The Canadian' between Toronto to Vancouver many times, and it makes a four hour stop at the Forks, so this was one of the few places in Manitoba we have previously explored and enjoyed very much.  


After a short break we continued northward to the site of the Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park.  Upper Fort Garry was established in 1822, and rebuilt in 1832 after it was destroyed by flooding.  It was built as a Hudson's Bay Company trading post, after the fall of the North-West Company's original Fort Gibralter, which was destroyed by Semple's men during the Pemmican War of 1816.  In 1869 Upper Fort Garry was seized by Louis Riel and his Métis supporters during the Red River Rebellion.  After the Rebellion, development around the fort continued to grow, eventually leading to the establishment of the city of Winnipeg.

The main gate and parts of the walls of the original fort have been preserved. A long, reddish metal wall runs along one side of the site, which shows fascinating scenes from the fort's history.  Interpretive signs also explain the events that took place there, and a soundtrack plays in the background.

After visiting the fort, our final stop for the day was at the Manitoba Legislative Building.  This neoclassical building was completed in 1920, and is famous for its domed top, upon which sits the 'Golden Boy'.  This gold covered bronze statue is based on the Roman god Mercury, or the Greek god Hermes.  The four corners of the dome supporting the Golden Boy show the elements earth, air, fire, and water and are shaped to represent agriculture, science, industry, and art.  

Just below the Legislative Building, looking up at it, was a large statue of Louis David Riel, founder of the province of Manitoba, and a political leader of the Métis people of the Prairies. He led two rebellions against the government of Canada and its first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.  The first was the Red River Rebellion (1869-1870), following which he negotiated the terms under which the modern province of Manitoba entered the Canadian Confederation.  The second was the North-West Rebellion in 1885.  The Métis leaders of Saskatchewan had requested his help in arguing their case against the Canadian government.  Riel responded by organizing an armed resistance, which was quickly defeated by thousands of armed soiders who were brought in from Ottawa on the new railway lines.  Louis Riel was convicted of treason and hanged, beginning a division in the country between east and west, and between Francophones, Anglophones, and Métis that still exists today.

After visiting the grounds of the Legislative Buildings we checked in to our motel and ended our explorations of Manitoba's capital city for today.  The Great Trail has taken us through St. John's, NL, Halifax, NS, Charlottetown, PE, Fredericton, NB, Toronto, ON, Winnipeg, MB, and our nation's capital Ottawa, ON.  We still have to hike the portion of Quebec that includes its capital, Quebec City.  In reaching this province's capital we have walked more than 6,000 km and crossed the geographical halfway point between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  It has been an interesting journey during which we have learned a lot.

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