Thursday, May 31, 2007

More on Upper Fort Garry

Some would have us believe that the City should plan according to cronyism and historical revisionism. My suggestion to them--the newspaper columnists, the dress-up groups, the local brahmin establishment, and the concerned public, is to read Alan Artibise's "Winnipeg: An Illustrated History" (1977), or spend some time browsing through the website of the Manitoba Historical Society. It may come as a surprise to them to find out that not only was Upper Fort Garry not the first fort built at The Forks (it was the fifth), it wasn't even the first Fort Garry (that one stood closer to The Forks) or the first seat of government in the region (again, that would be Fort Gibralter/Fort Garry, when the Council of Assiniboia formed in 1822--a decade before work on the new Fort Garry began. Or going back further, it was Macdonell's quasi-government of Fort Douglas in the 1810s). And while the importance of Upper Fort Garry shouldn't be understated. it was not the "birthplace" or "cradle" of the city of Winnipeg--politcal or otherwise.

It's interesting to hear the fort described as the birthplace of the city over and over again. This belief could probably be indirectly attributed to--in addition to historical ignorance or purposeful revisioning--Winnipeggers being deeply wont to socialist economics: where goods and services are administered by one body (ie- Hudson's Bay Co. prior to 1849; MTS prior to the 1990s; the present-day Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Liquor Control Commission; or the publicly-subsidised, zoning-choked nature of the post-war shopping arrangement.) They don't seem to understand that the city only came about after the HBC's monopoly was broken, when unbridled commerce occured north of the fort, at Portage and Main. And it's only when many of today's monopolies and regulations are broken, and ideas and commerce are encouraged again, that the city will be able to grow proper and true (and have its 154-year old fort gate not be surrounded by gravel parking lots and filling stations for decades).

This mindset is also a good explanation for the local fear and disdain of private ownership and development, which seems to forget that like the Walker Theatre or the Union Bank tower, the Upper Fort Garry gate is (quite rightly) a Grade I heritage structure, and cannot be torn down or altered no matter who owns it.

Anyway, here's two examples of what can happen when the City owns highly important heritage structures:


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