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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 4

A Brief History of Lower Fort Garry

by Dale Miquelon

Government Activities at the Fort

The garrisoning of troops was only the first of many uses to be made of Lower Fort Garry by the Canadian government. On 22 May 1871, a group of officials appeared at the fort to inspect the stone store with a view to using it as a penitentiary until a more suitable structure could be erected for the purpose.1 The penitentiary was established in the fort sometime after the Quebec Rifles left in June, 1871, and remained there until 1877. Its presence necessitated certain building modifications. A wooden stockade was placed around the prisoners yard, both inside and beyond the fort walls. The gate that now serves the public on the northeast side was probably built at this time. The colombage structure by the northwest gate later came to be used as a women's asylum.2

An event of notable importance occurred at the Stone Fort in August, 1871, when Indian Commissioner Wemyss Simpson and Lieutenant-Governor Archibald negotiated the young Dominion's first Indian treaty. The treaty with the Chippewa and Swampy Cree was an essential prerequisite to more extensive settlement of the West. Archibald had reported to Joseph Howe, Secretary of State for Provinces, that the Indians had interfered with emigrants, warning them not to come on the ground outside the Hudson's Bay Company surveys."3 They were "very much excited on the subject of their lands," Simpson recorded.4 Lower Fort Garry was chosen as the site for the negotiations as being that place nearest the Indian settlement affording pleasant accommodation.

On Monday, 24 July, Flett recorded in the journal that the Queen's representatives, "Governor Archibald and his family with the Indian Commissioner W. Simpson Esquire, Provincial Secretary Howard and several other gentlemen arrived here this evening preparatory to the negotiations that have been appointed to take place with the Indian tribes of this province tomorrow."5 Thirty-five troops were brought down to invest the proceedings with a martial air and fifteen of these remained until the negotiations were concluded.6 The meetings were held outside the fort near the north bastion in an area now traversed by the main highway.7 On Tuesday, "The Indians collected here were about six hundred but owing to a great number not being yet present the negotiations after some parley was put off till the twenty-seventh."8 On Thursday, "The Governor and Commissioner had a parley with the Indians."9 Archibald opened the negotiations with a fine speech. "Your Great Mother, the Queen," he began, "wishes to do justice to all her children alike. She will deal fairly with those of the setting sun, just as with those of the rising sun."10 According to Flett, "nothing was done further than talking. They are all to assemble again tomorrow at 10 o'clock."11 On Friday, negotiations continued until interrupted by rain at two o'clock. Meetings, continued on Saturday and Monday, but on Tuesday were suspended while Archibald was absent. On Wednesday, negotiations reached a temporary impasse.12 "Governor Archibald came down last evening," wrote Flett, "and he with the commissioner and their assistants held meetings twice with the Indians today but without any favourable result as nothing was settled."13 The following day, 3 August 1871, terms were agreed upon and the treaty was signed.14

In addition to agreements on money payments and the extent of land grants, however, certain verbal promises were made, and these were not completely fulfilled. Resulting Indian dissatisfaction was only accentuated by the more generous terms given other tribes in later treaties. Thus in 1875, the annuities were increased from three dollars per person to five, and chiefs were given twenty-five dollars and a suit of clothing every three years.15 This example of Canadian niggardliness was only a portent. The Dominion's relationship with western Indians begun so auspiciously amid feathers and resplendent uniforms under the creamy walls of Lower Fort Garry deteriorated soon enough in the depression wrought tragedies of the 1880s.

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