Fort Restoration Project
The Fort la Reine Museum houses the only replica of the historically remarkable Fort la Reine. The original Fort was built in 1738 on the Assiniboine River by Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye, who is contemporarily celebrated as a fur trader, explorer, farmer, and first military commander in the west, of what is now Canada. The original Fort was one of the larger settlements that fueled Canadian Western Expansion in the 18th century, and is one of the few physical examples of a la Vérendrye Fort today. The original Fort included two bastion towers on either side of the entrance gate, stables, a blacksmith shelter, a trading post in the centre, and a large fortification wall made of wood. Fort la Reine served not only as a fur trading post, but was the primary base of operations for much historic exploration north and west, as well as an anchored site for Dakota and French relations. From Fort la Reine and with the assistance of the Dakota peoples in the region, explorers travelled farther west than any previous Europeans ever had before. A marker where Fort la Reine is considered to have been, is a National Historic Site, and Fort la Reine's story elevates the significance of Portage la Prairie as a place that is historically significant on a National scale.
A group of dedicated volunteers, local historians, and craftspeople constructed the replica of Fort la Reine and established the Fort la Reine Museum in 1967 as a Centennial Project. It was built taking into account historic records and testimonies of how the Fort would have looked like in 1738. For over 50 years, the replica of Fort la Reine acted as the centre for historic education at the Museum, but the two bastion towers that housed the Indigenous Histories exhibit and RCMP displays had to be closed down due to massive deterioration.
Fort la Reine’s current state is a great cultural loss to the community. The Bastions in particular are beyond simple repair, as reported by a recent building inspection and several local contractors who were consulted about maintenance in 2018. In order for the Fort la Reine Museum to continue to be relevant, and provide a quality visitor experience telling the stories of the history of Portage la Prairie, we must fully restore the Fort la Reine replica. The renewal of the Fort Bastions is crucial to enhancing the environment of the Fort la Reine Museum, and beneficial to the people of Portage la Prairie and District, as it gives us the historical context that inspires and speaks to community identity and further Canadian identity.
With the restoration of the Fort Bastions, we will be able to move forward with our much anticipated Indigenous Perspectives Project, an initiative to restructure the Fort la Reine Museum to include more opportunities for our regional Indigenous peoples to exhibit their histories and heritage. One of the restored Bastion Towers will be dedicated to this endeavour, while the other will feature an exhibition about trade routes and European-Indigenous relationships through physical artefacts, digital media, and hands-on experiences. By enhancing and contemporizing the Fort Bastions, we will be able to offer more meaningful learning experiences at the Fort la Reine Museum, attract a wider array of visitors, and build stronger relationships with our Indigenous communities.
The first step in establishing sustainability of the Fort Bastions is to dismantle the current Bastions, re-construct and remodel the existing structures with modern frameworks and foundations. Sustainability of the structure and providing historical accuracy must be balanced carefully to ensure an ongoing appreciation for heritage in a non traditional educational setting. Rebuilding replica historic structures, as opposed to designated heritage buildings, allows for better building measures to ensure longevity. Historic-style logs will be used as a façade to represent the era that the structures replicate. The log façade is to be treated and sealed with water-resistant sealant, and mortared with flexible silicon (Perma-chink), and artificially aged to an appropriate degree. The condition of the Fort Bastions, like all other Fort la Reine Museum heritage buildings, is monitored every season using artefact/heritage condition reports and recorded photography. Minor maintenance is applied every summer, and any major degradation or repairs needed is noted based on these reports, and a plan of action for repairs is to then be decided by the Board of Directors.
SPONSORS & DONORS
Royal le Page
Southport Aerospace Centre Inc.
Major Project Sponsor
George H. Rutherford
Thomas Sill Foundation