Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Whatever happened to...

Remember slap bracelets? I do. When I was ten or so, they were inescapable--one couldn't go anywhere in Gimli in the early '90s without seeing kids slapping neon-colored bracelets on their wrists.

Today was probably the first time since about 1993 that the thought of slap bracelets has entered my mind. Today was also the first time in some months that I have thought of another lost craze--Upper Fort Garry. Not the fort's gate itself, which is still tucked away behind the Manitoba Club, but the Friends and the movement that went along with it earlier in the year.

As far as special interest groups in Winnipeg go, the Friends of Upper Fort Garry was pretty significant. Imagine to popularity of slap bracelets, pogs, the Macarena, and Starter jackets combined.

So popular were the Friends of Upper Fort Garry that not only were questions and criticisms of them practically blacked out by the mainstream media, but they were enough to make Sam "I'm not a Politician" Katz forget about contract law in order to come in and save the day for the Friends. Any time Sam Katz and the Free Press are on the same page, you know it's a big deal.

Anyway, Katz did save the day for the Friends: their World Class Interperative Centre won't have any renters living next door, and the apartment developer is taking his business to the suburbs.

In spite of all that apparent sway among the media, local politicians, and the local social establishment, that was the last we heard from the Friends or anyone else on the subject of Upper Fort Garry.

Their silence has been particularly deafening with a football stadium proposed to sit a few hundred feet from the site of Fort Douglas, which stood on the banks of the Red River in the early 19th century at the foot of present-day Galt Street. If one is to believe that the urbanization of Winnipeg came to be not through the fur trade, but through the development of agriculture, then it could certainly be believed that Fort Douglas was "the city's birthplace". The fort was the centre of the Selkirk Settlement, which was in 1812 was the first agricultural endeavor undertaken anywhere in North America west of the Great Lakes. (Where the stadium would stand would be within what was the Point Douglas Common--hay fields available for the settlers.)

Nothing has been heard about Fort Douglas in all of this stadium discussion, and I haven't seen anyone parading around in 19th century garb when I ride down Waterfront Drive.

Not that I mind, since Fort Douglas is long gone and much of the site--along with Seven Oaks Massacre dead who were buried near it--has probably been lost to riverbank erosion, and because I don't oppose building something good on or near where a fort was once built. It's just hard not to notice that the people who came out to defend the vicinity of Upper Fort Garry from Crystal Development are MIA in the fight to save the neighborhood of Fort Douglas from Creswin Development.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Believe me, as a supporter of the restoration of the Upper Fort Garry site, the location of Fort Douglas is not lost on me! The entire precinct, from current Point Douglas to the Forks, including Fort Gibraltar, which used to be on the other side of the river, ought to do a ton more to tell story of the settlement of Winnipeg. If the Point Douglas idea proceeds in one form or another we will give serious thought as to how we can pay homage to our history. I would also include some kind of recognition at May St. I believe, where the General Strike began.

David Asper

8:34 AM  
Anonymous unclebob said...

"some kind of recognition at May St. I believe, where the General Strike began"

Very nice point. There are very good lessons from local history! Every time I pass the Louis Riel statue behind the legislature I am reminded that rabble rousing is an honourable task but it does not always pay to be the leader.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous R & S said...

Mr. Asper, I'm glad to hear that you would take an interest in Fort Douglas. There are markers in the vicinity of it today, but as far as I know, no one knows precisely where it stood. (One 19th century historian said that where it stood would have been lost to erosion through the 1800s).

I am not aware of any events of the general strike occurring on May Street. It was the employees of Vulcan Iron Works on Maple Street north the tracks that were the first to walk off the job in 1919, and of course, Victoria Park--which became the sight of the Amy Street steam plant, and is now becoming Sky condos--which was a popular gathering place for Labor rallies.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. We'll have to get out the history books and have a good look at all the historical elements of the area. As I say, if the proposal goes ahead in one form or another, I'd look forward to working with you on making sure as much of the history is preserved and animated as possible.


7:05 AM  
Blogger The Rise and Sprawl said...

You might be right--May Street might have had a role in the strike. It is nothing that a little research wouldn't be able to find out.

There are many things in south Point Douglas' history that are yet to be discovered: Sam Bronfman and his family lived on Lily Street in the 1910s; Winnipeg's tiny black community was centred around Pilgrim Baptist Church on Maple and Macdonald--a neighborhood known as the "Black Belt" or "The Loop". While my opposition to a stadium remains, I would be happy to participate in any efforts to uncover more on this area's fascinating history.

2:31 PM  

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