History comes alive at Fort Walsh (especially July 26-27)
A trip to the Fort Walsh National Historic Site, located 55 kilometres southwest of Maple Creek, can be a real adventure of discovery for visitors.
A variety of events takes place at this reconstructed 1870s fort throughout the summer months to provide visitors with an interactive experience of life on the frontier with the North-West Mounted Police.
“There’s always something,” Interpretation Officer Omar Murray said. “We’re open seven days a week and there are tours that go on all day. there are tours of Fort Walsh itself to show you what life would be like for the North West Mounted Police. We also have some Métis cabins that are opened up to show you what it would have been like for the Métis in the area at the time.”
The Métis cabin activities is a new addition at the fort this season to highlight the presence of Métis families in the area.
“There was a family of McKay’s that were there actually before the fort was established,” he said.
The new Métis cabin is located close to where the McKay homestead was, but it is not an exact replica of the previous building.
After learning about bartering at the trading post and the value of buffalo robes in the 1870s, visitors can walk over to the food tent to try some tasty treats.
“We have a cook tent set up and we give people samples of cooking that’s done on the wood stove,” he said.
They can enjoy a refreshing cup of sun tea that uses the energy of the sun to brew a jar of tea.
“You just put water in a nice glass jar and you put some tea in it,” he said. “You just leave it out in the hot sunshine. It infuses the tea and it makes a nice sun tea. It’s not boiling hot; it’s more like an iced tea.”
Visitors can explore the fort on their own or learn more about the buildings during a tour with a guide dressed in period costume.
“The tour itself has changed a little bit,” he said. “We’re hoping that when you come along you might meet somebody that’s in character and you’ll hear them talk like it is 1880. They’ll interact with the guide itself that you’re with.”
Visitors might even become part of a court room trial and according to Murray it is a very popular activity at the fort.
“It actually started out as a kids program and adults liked it so much that we made it part of the regular programming,” he said. “You get arrested and you get put on trial… The neat thing about those trials is they’re actual trials that were held at Fort Walsh at that time and the outcomes of the trials are real as well.”
Parks Canada’s 1812 on Tour, a travelling experience to commemorate the War of 1812, will be at Fort Walsh on July 26 and 27.
“This is a cross-country tour that is going across Canada,” he said.
“They got a bunch of tents set up and giant 1812 numbers. They’re going to be doing some musket demonstrations, there’s tattoos and stuff for the kids. It should be interesting.”
This interactive tour has already travelled to 39 locations across Canada during the past two years and over 95,000 people have visited the exhibit. Fort Walsh is one of 13 locations visited by the 1812 on Tour during 2014.
An annual highlight at Fort Walsh is the Trades Day, which takes place on Aug. 2. It is a fun-filled day with activities for the entire family.
“Last year we had about 600 people and I’m hoping for more this year,” he said.
There will be NWMP and RCMP drills, cannon and rifle firing, wagon rides, children’s activities, Métis dances, trades and cultural demonstrations.
“We’re going to have a blacksmith and a ferrier and a wheelwright and a leatherworker,” he said. “We’re going to have somebody with a spinning wheel, all of those historic trades that would have been going on at the time.”
There were three cannons at last year’s historic weapons demonstrations and he is anticipating a similar number this year.
“We’re hoping to have cadets from RCMP depot in Regina,” he said. “We’re going to have members of the Northwest Mounted Police Commemorative Association out of Calgary, the Southern Alberta Light Horse Artillery out of Medicine Hat as well as people from Parks Canada and other volunteers coming out and marching around, shooting guns and cannons and stuff. It should be quite a day again.”
Fort Walsh National Historic Site is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Sept. 1. For more information, phone 306-662-3590 or visit the Parks Canada website at www.pc.gc.ca.
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