The Forks, a green space in Winnipeg’s core, is named after the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers and is an important historical landmark for Indigenous people with 6,000 years of history. Winnipeg means “muddy waters” in Cree. The Forks is located on Cree, Oji-Cree, Ojibwe, Dakota and Assiniboine land with it also being the origin of the Metis Nation.
The Forks has always been a meeting place to which no nation had exclusivity and nations met there for trade, politics, healing and battle.
6,000 years ago
Archaeologists have established that Aboriginal hunters lived at The Forks as early as 6,000 years ago and recovered a hearth, including bones from catfish and flakes from stone tools, from that period. Later campsites were also found and provided a record of activity until the fur trade.
The fur trade
During the fur trade era, the site was used by the Dakota, Nakoda (Assiniboine), Cree and Anishinaabe (Ojibwa).
In 1734 the first Europeans, two employees of the French Explorer and fur trader Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Verendrye came to The Forks. In 1738 La Verendrye built the first of many trading posts, Fort Rouge, which was soon replaced by other trading posts. La Verendrye continued developing the fur trade and looked for a route to the pacific with his son until he died in 1749. The area was resource-rich and on an important route so it remained at the centre of the fur trade until the 1880s when industry in Western Canada shifted to grain production.
The Hudson’s Bay Company and Northwest Company
There was a rivalry for decades between the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and Northwest Company (NWC) because the NWC was in violation of the charter granted by King Charles II to HBC. The tension eventually led to the Battle of the Seven Oaks in 1816. By 1821 the NWC struggled to be profitable and merged with the HBC. Metis traders settled in the Red River Colony.
The Red River Rebellion
The HBC agreed to give Rupert’s Land (which included The Forks) to Canada in 1869 without consulting the Metis. Fearing a takeover by Protestant settlers and a new government indifferent to their cultural, religious, and land rights, they rebelled under the leadership of Louis Riel. They created a provisional government and took control of Upper Fort Garry in 1869. Several settlers from Ontario who opposed the rebellion were captured, and one of them, Thomas Scott, was executed in 1870. The Red River Metis and Canada reached an agreement in 1870 and Manitoba was created.
From 1886 on, The Forks was an important site for the early development of the railroad on the Prairies. Buildings from this period in history are still present there today and rail yards were built there by the Canadian National Railway, Northern Pacific, Canadian Northern, Manitoba Railway Company and Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad.
When the Canadian government began encouraging immigration and the development of the railway in the late 1800s, Winnipeg was called the “Gateway to the Canadian West.” Two buildings, each housing 500 people, were built and many immigrants went through to Western Canada.
In 1974 The Forks was designated a National Historic site and includes several other historic sites. It is home to Upper Fort Garry, Fort Rouge, and Gibraltar National Historic Site of Canada.
The Great Northern and Grand Trunk Pacific railway stables were joined to create The Forks Market. The Johnston Terminal is in the National Cartage Building and the Manitoba Children's Museum is in the Bridges, Manitoba Railway Company, and Northern Pacific buildings. Union Station is still operational today.
The Forks is now a public downtown meeting place for recreation and celebration and includes an interpretive park, historic port, skateboard park, historic and new buildings, and indoor and outdoor attractions. The Scotiabank Stage is home to many summer events like Aboriginal Day Live and Pride Winnipeg Festival. The Oodena Celebration Circle is at the centre of The Forks and sacred events take place there all year.