1 — The Search
We were ready to leave Winnipeg a week ago, but I said no. I said we must see The Forks. It is one of the city’s magical places. And silently I said to myself, “I will finally see the Gate.”
So we did the touristy thing, navigated around the Market , that hive of activity where the multifarious sights and smells buzz hither and thither. I finally escorted Olga to the car, ensured she had a good book to read, and said, “I’m going to find that Gate.”
The Gate is the last remnant of Upper Fort Garry, which attained its heyday when Louis Riel occupied it in 1869 and shook the new Confederation of Canada to its very soles. I have been visiting Winnipeg for decades, always telling myself that I will now see the Gate, and I often visited The Forks, where I believed that Gate stood, but failed to see it.
The Forks today is the heart of Winnipeg, at the fork of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. It has always been the heart of Manitoba, even before there was a Manitoba. Stone age people camped there, and Aboriginals gathered there after the continental glacier retreated, and fur traders found it, settlers settled it, and merchants built a city around it. In the nineteenth century, the Hudson’s Bay Company built a depot there, from which it ruled the North West Territories, before there was a Canada. They called it Fort Garry, and later, Upper Fort Garry.
What Plymouth Rock is to the Americans, Upper Fort Garry Gate is — or should be — to us Canadians.
If Fort Garry had never existed, the Canada we know would have never happened.
Now I set out to find the Gate. My eyes fixed on a prominent building at The Forks, with the sign CityTV. I knew, I just knew, it would hold the answer.
There is usually little point in asking locals about their history. By scientific guesswork, I have calculated that only two out of 49 people know anything worthwhile about their history. It is only when the history — which they know next to nothing about — is threatened that the figures rise to fourteen out of 49.
When I entered the portal of CityTV, two receptionists eyed me head to toe. I locked eyes with the young man rather than the young woman. He was the one. Could he tell me where the Gate was?
Yes, he could. Well, no, he couldn’t. But he’d always wanted to see it, intended some day to see it. He led me outside. It’s over by the river, he said, pointing toward the real fork, the invisible one, beyond The Forks. Well, maybe not. He would escort me, he said. He asked me to wait a moment while he let his bosses know where he was going.
I took a photo of Winnipeg’s brand new museum, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, due to open next month. Well, I would see about that later — as to which humans and whose rights.
The young man returned. He guided me towards the rear of Union Station and the traffic underpass under the multiple railway tracks. As soon as we entered the underpass, I saw it.
Beyond the traffic hurtling by on Main Street. Beyond a screen of security fencing. I saw it.
A stone monument.
My guide led me up to Main Street, grinned happily, shook my hand, and returned to work.
I was on my own.