Tours, characters and workshops highlight Parks Canada’s summer programs

Posted July 21, 2022 | Author Travel Manitoba

How much does a blacksmith earn in 1852? Is that wild bergamot or prairie sage? What do I need to made candles from rendered beef tallow?

Get all the answers you’re looking for thanks to Manitoba’s long, rich and captivating history along with some new summer programs offered by Parks Canada. National Historic Sites like Lower Fort Garry, The Forks and Riel House make it easy to learn a little about the past and pave the way for discoveries in the future.

Little house on a river lot

Tucked into a quiet residential neighbourhood in south Winnipeg is Riel House, offering a snapshot of Manitoba’s Metis history through its most prominent family. The Riel-Lagimodière family moved into the house in 1864 and lived here until 1969. It sits on a Metis river lot—a narrow strip of land that reaches the Red River—and signifies the way land was shared and used before it was sold to the Dominion of Canada.

Although Metis leader Louis Riel never lived in the house, there are touches of him everywhere. After he was hanged for high treason in 1885, his body lay in state for two days in the living room, and the home is preserved for that moment in time. The mirrors are draped with black cloths in reverence for the departed. Personal possessions and rare photographs are on display for those who came to pay their respect.

Hand-stitched quilts, woodstoves and a few precious pieces of fine dinnerware tell the story of a nation that lived through a turbulent time in Manitoba’s history. Costumed interpreters are on site to share stories of the joys and challenges of daily life in the Red River Settlement.

For younger visitors, the Xplorers Programs invites them to search for clues and take home a souvenir from their visit. And for botany fans, areas around the historic home are planted with native species including wild bergamot, yarrow and brown-eyed susans. The site is open Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

6000 years and counting

It’s rare that a historic site serves the same purpose it did over 6000 years ago, but that’s the story of The Forks in downtown Winnipeg. It was first a meeting place for Indigenous people and is now a gathering spot for families, friends and visitors from both far and near.

Thanks to a new tour by Parks Canada called Where Our Stories Meet, visitors can get an action-packed history lesson in under an hour. The guided tour introduces us to costumed characters along the way who tell the story of The Forks through the ages. It’s an entirely interactive tour—get ready to answer skill-testing questions, examine genuine archeological artifacts, speak a little French and maybe even learn the lyrics to a new song! The tour runs Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday at 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. (English) and 1:00 p.m. (French) until September 5.

While at The Forks, look for markers telling the story of the great floods, stroll through the recreated tall grass prairie, visit the Oodena Celebration Circle amphitheatre and spend some time at the new Niizhoziibean park that honours Indigenous histories with a lodge, sculptures and gardens.

Make it at The Fort

Perhaps Manitoba’s most-well known historic site, Lower Fort Garry stands as one of Canada’s oldest collections of fur trade era buildings. But it’s much more than limestone dwellings. Inside these walls—and between bastions—rests the very story of the creation of Canada and today, visitors are treated to a glimpse of what life was really like all those years ago.

There’s something happening every single day of the week at the fort located 30 kilometres north of Winnipeg along the Red River. Take your pick from workshops on how to bake bannock, make ice cream or work with chocolate (yes, chocolate). Take your first steps toward mastering the craft of blacksmithing or get started on your annual supply of candles. You’ll need 1000 to light your way through a Manitoba winter. Each workshop kicks off at 2 pm, takes about an hour and is a steal at only $7.75. Taste testing and take-home keepsakes are included!

For a deeper dive into the history of Lower Fort Garry, join in the Beavers to Buicks guided tours that run three times a day. And if you’re wondering what Buicks have to do with a fur trading fort, we’ll give you a hint. The Motor Country Club had a prestigious address back in the day. Can you guess what it was?

Lower Fort Garry is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily until September 5.

Travel Manitoba staff was hosted by Parks Canada, who did not review or approve this story.

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