Opening the Interpretive Center
Notes from the opening brochure:
A meeting place of culture marks 200 years.
In the summer of 1792 the westward expansion of the fur trade reached what is now Alberta, by way of the North Saskatchewan River.
The Northwest Company (working out of Montreal and Grand Portage) and the Hudson's Bay Company (based at York Factory on Hudson's Bay) had vied with each other for two decades, pushing further inland across the prairies and northern forests.
To commemorate the Bicentennial and to tell the story of the fur trade's arrival in this part of our world, Alberta Culture and Multi culturalism opens the Fort George & Buckingham House Interpretive Centre in June 1992. Unlike the forts, which originated in stiff competition between rivals, the development of this latest provincial historic site owes its existence to close co-operation of the federal and provincial governments and the Elk Point and District Historical Society.
Across the Canadian northwest, the fur trade served as the vehicle that drew diverse Native and European societies together. In that trade, the plains peoples (Blackfoot, Gros Ventre, Sarcees, Blood and Peigan), and those of the northern forests (Cree, Assiniboine and Ojibwa) met the incoming Highland and Low-land Scottish, English, French and Canadian traders. Located a five-minute walk from the site of Fort George & Buckingham House Interpretive Centre is designed to draw visitors into the world of the fur trade, to show how the first nations lived independently of that trade, to plot the development of native and European interaction, and the subsequent fate of those involved after the forts abandonment. All those themes are presented through a combination of archaeological digs, documentary research and knowledge of the oral traditions, united to tell the story of this historic meeting place of cultures.
Provincial Historic Site - Open in Spring of 1992
The following is a speech delivered by Sheila Thompson, then president of the Elk Point Historical Society and the Friends of the Forts Society, in 1992 at the opening:
Tansi! Bien Venue! et Welcome! ..... Honored Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. Today is a day we have been looking forward to for a long time. Opening the Fort George/Buckingham House Interpretive Centre in its bicentennial year, in a year rich with historic anniversaries, gives us the feeling of connectedness with the rest of Canada and North America. This year marks 125 years since confederation, 350 since the founding of Montreal, 500 years since Columbus's voyage.
The founding of Fort George and Buckingham House in 1792 was not an insignificant event. Canada's three founding nations, the English, the French and the First Nations, were all present at these forts and working cooperatively 200 years ago. Fort George was established by the NWC, restless entrepreneurs, always on the move, pushing back the frontiers of North America. Buckingham House belonged to the HBC which had grudgingly followed the NW upstarts into the wilderness.
By thumbing their noses at the royal charter granted to HBC, the NWC became the first free-trade advocates, and by so doing, lay the groundwork for Canada's later claims to this land when Americans to the south began their push west.
In 1792, the NWC was on the rise, leapfrogging with the HBC further and further across North America, stretching their supply routes to the breaking point. Their energy and determination can be summed up their company motto.- One word: "Perseverance!" Their perseverance shaped the destiny of our country.
The companies only occupied these fort sites for 8 years before exhausting the fur supply and moving on. But these sites were never forgotten. People in this audience today, who were children in the 1930's and 40's remember hiking out to the fort sites and finding arrowheads and other remnants ofthat bygone era.. It captured their imaginations and they wanted the sites preserved. Long before ourElk Point Historical Society became a registered entity, interested citizens joined together for the perservation of these sites. Twonames in particular come to mind. Mr. Sid Holthe, first president of the Elk Point Historical Society, and the late Mrs. Mary Bennett Theyworked long and tirelessly on our behalf.
And their lobbying paid off. On November 6, 1964, historians, JamesG. MacGregor and Hugh Dempsey recommended that an archaeology project beinitiated at Fort George. Digs took place in 1965, 1966 and 1967. But it wasn't until the 1980s when these same concerned citizens demonstratedtheir own perseverance by now lobbying the Federal/Provincial Northern Development Subcommittee. This beautiful interpretive centre is the fruit of their labor. Thank you for all your work.
And thank you to the Alberta government departments - Northern Developrnent, Public Works, Supply and Service, and above all the Historic Sites Branch of Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, who so ably took on this project and have created for all Albertans the beautiful fur trade centre you see here today. Thank you to our elected representatives, Member of Parliament, Deborah Grey, Member of the Legislature John Drobot, and to our county and municipal councils for their continued support and encouragement.
Today is a time to pause and celebrate. But all of us here need muster our own form of Perseverance. How can we use this centre to enrich our community life and the life of all Albertans? For a start, we have formed the Friends of the Forts association to support the work of the Fort George/Buckingham House Interpretive Centre. Where doyour interests lie? Are you concerned about preserving Alberta's history, or perhaps educating yourself and others about the fur trade era? Maybe your interests lie in special social events such as a mid-winter Fur Trappers Ball, or camping adventures for our children. Or do you want to promote our region for tourism and economic development? Whatever your special interests, I urge you to use the Friends of the Forts as a vehicle for achieving them. Many peopleon the grounds today are wearing red ribbons which say, "Ask me about the Friends". Please approach these people and share your ideas with them.
Today we stand at the balance point of reflecting on the past and anticipating thefuture. Thank you to all who have made it possible. Enjoy the festivities and all that the day has to offer.