Description of Historic Place
The Forks National Historic Site of Canada is an area of publicly accessible land in the heart of the City of Winnipeg, Manitoba, comprised of areas known as the South Point and North Point situated on opposite sides of the Assiniboine River on the west bank of the Red River. Historically, it was a critical river junction that has been a transportation point for many generations. Today, The Forks is a mixed-use gathering place integrating green space, recreation areas, commercial operations and parking which has been the result of the redevelopment of former Canadian National rail yards.
The Forks was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1974 because, strategically located at the juncture of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, this spot has witnessed many of the key events of western Canadian history. The heritage value of The Forks lies in the millennia of human activity to which its cultural landscape bears witness. Its heritage value is embodied in its geographical location, the evidence of past activity and the commemoration of past activity it contains, and its strategic impact upon the surrounding development.
People have used The Forks as a meeting place, fishing camp, trading place and settlement for at least six thousand years. Both the Red and the Assinboine rivers have historically been major transportation corridors in western Canada. Over time, the rivers have meandered and their courses have shifted. The site commemorated as “The Forks” has accommodated significant use during two historical periods – 7600 until 3000 years ago (5600 BC-1000 BC), and 1500 years ago to the present (500 AD -2000 AD). As the traditional transition area between the prairies and the woodlands, it has been a meeting and trading point for a wide range of First Nations cultural groups including Algonquin peoples from central and southern Manitoba, northwestern Ontario and Minnesota, and possibly parts of North Dakota.
During the 18th century it provided an intermittent seasonal camp for Assiniboine, Ojibwa (Saulteaux), Cree and Dakota (Sioux) peoples. The first European settlement in western Canada (La Vérendrye’s Fort Rouge,1736-1740s) was also located nearby. In the 19th and 20th centuries it was a staging point for western expansion and settlement: the site of fur trade Fort Gibraltar I (1810-1816) and Fort Gibraltar II (1817-1821), Fort Garry I (1817-1852), a Hudson’s Bay reserve (1836- 1907) and the yards of a major railway (1888-1988). Selective archaeological investigations conducted at The Forks in 1984, 1987 and 1988 recovered 190,800 artifacts (both moveable and in-situ) including those representing pre-contact, fur trade and railway eras.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, 1974, 1986.
Elements key to the heritage value of this site include:
- the location of the site at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers;
- the unimpeded presence of the courses of both rivers;
- the relative lack of disturbance of archaeological evidence contained in the stratified layers of soil on site;
- the continued legibility and well-being of excavations and artifacts uncovered at 8 pre-contact and 5 post-contact sites (including evidence that remains in situ such as the log structure at Fort Gibraltar I, buildings from the Hudson Bay Company Experimental Farm, the railway turntable roundhouse foundation);
- the integrity and continued association of archaeological evidence removed during the above investigations and the knowledge they contain;
- the integrity of commemorations on the site including those to Forts Rouge, Gibraltar and Garry (designated National Historic Site of Canada), and that to the creation of the Province of Manitoba;
- the integrity of a natural riparian habitat (a band of forest with bur oak, Manitoba maple, cottonwood, some aspen and dogwood) on the banks of the river;
- both on-site evidence of and viewscapes to geological evidence of the location of earlier banks and/or shifts in the bed of the river;
- viewscapes east and west along course of the Assiniboine River, north and south along course of the Red River, to St. Boniface Cathedral and the Grey Nuns’ Convent National Historic Site of Canada, to the Union (VIA) Station National Historic Site of Canada, and towards the Exchange District National Historic Site of Canada;
- the legibility and integrity of the site as a landmark in the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba.