St Boniface – the French Quarter of Winnipeg – boasts the largest Francophone community west of the Province of Quebec.
This community celebrates the spirit of “joie de vivre” all year round and each February with the Festival du Voyageur, Western Canada’s largest winter festival. The festival is held around Fort Gibraltar, one of the City’s main tourist attractions.
A key characteristic of the early 19th century fur-trading era was the intense competition between the Hudson’s Bay Company (based in London, England with a distinctly English culture) and the North West Company (based in Montreal with a cultural mix of French, Scottish and native).
The voyageurs of the North West Company were a highly mobile group of fur traders. The sound of their paddles and their songs echoed from the banks of rivers and lakes from Montreal to the Pacific Ocean, from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. They were the backbone of the fur-trading endeavour by the NWC; expert woodsmen, canoe handlers and hunters with 150 years of North American experience resulting in a high level of cultural integration with native groups. They were widely respected for their skills and hard work but even better known for their “joie de vivre” – the capacity to enjoy life to the fullest even under conditions of extreme hardship.
The North West Company traded from temporary encampments in the forks region that later became Winnipeg up until 1809 when it built Fort Gibraltar. This fort, erected right under the nose of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s continental headquarters (Fort Douglas) proved to be to the HBC, for the following decade, an unbearable irritant and led to many conflicts between the British population of the Red River valley and the NWC employees (mostly French-Canadians). Fort Gibraltar was captured March 17th, 1816 and destroyed shortly thereafter by Colin Robertson, NWC ex-employee and leader of the Selkirk Colony (Lord Selkirk was a major shareholder of the HBC). The capture was deemed illegal by British authorities, and the North West Company was given permission to rebuild it in 1817.
At the height of the fur-trading era, the North West Company had 97 trading posts compared to the 84 in Manitoba that flew the Hudson’s Bay Company standard. The two rival companies merged March 26, 1821 under the name of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
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.
Today, the major purpose of Fort Gibraltar is to reflect key elements of life in the Red River valley from 1815 to 1821. The themes provide witness not only to the importance of the fur trade as an economic development factor in Manitoba’s history, but also to the lifestyle of the settlement and the roles played by the Metis, the settlers, the explorers, the Aboriginal peoples, the companies and of course, the Voyageurs.
Our unique site, the historical content of our activities and our vast experience in special event planning combine to provide the ideal backdrop for your visit.