Fort Gibraltar was built by the Montreal based North West Company (NWC) in 1810 at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. Home to a staff of 10 to 20 voyageurs, canoe guides, interpreters, tradesmen, clerks and NWC wintering partners or Bourgeois, the fort was a hub for fur trade commerce and for developing communities in the early days of Winnipeg.
With outposts and Forts that tretched from Quebec to the Columbia River and beyond; the NWC was faced with a provisioning dilemma. How do you feed a labour force of 2,000-2,500 voyageurs? The solution was to look to Indigenous ingenuity and trade for vast quantities of pemmican. Fort
Gibraltar was well situated to be able to trade with several different Indigenous nations who were willing to trade surplus pemmican as well as other food stuffs to the NWC in exchange for trade goods. Buying provisions and shipping them north to food caches and other trading posts was crucial in keeping the company’s fur trade operations afloat.
Competition with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was fierce. They too maintained a massive network of forts and also employed a large staff that required similar levels of provisioning. Their need for supplies and territorial expansion led to many conflicts between the two great fur trade rivals. The centre of that conflict revolved
around the happenings at Red River. Shortly after the construction of Fort Gibraltar, Lord Selkirk established the Red River Settlement with the backing of the HBC. This move was widely viewed as a provocation by NWC management. They mobilized, with the help of their Métis allies, to regain control of the pemmican business and the fur trade itself. A clash of commercial strategies and coalitions ensued that would shape the political and social landscape of western Canada for decades to come.
Unfortunately, the original Fort Gibraltar did not survive this calamity. It was burned to the ground by the HBC and members
of the Red River Settlement in the spring of 1816.
The North West Company builds Fort Gibraltar
Fort Gibraltar is captured and destroyed by the Selkirk Colony
Fort Gibraltar is rebuilt by the North West Company
North West Company merges with Hudson’s Bay Company – Fort Gibraltar continues its operations under the Hudson’s Bay Company standard
Fort Gibraltar’s name is changed to Fort Garry
Fort Garry is abandoned but its warehouses are still used
Fort Garry is destroyed by the Red River flood
Fort Gibraltar is rebuilt in Saint-Boniface, across the river from it’s original site, by the Festival du Voyageur, a community non-profit who’s mandate is to promote joie de vivre and extend the reach of French language and culture throughout the year through artistic, educational, historical and cultural experiences inspired by the voyageur era.