The Forks, so named because of its position where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red, has a rich history of early Aboriginal settlement, the fur trade, the advent of the railway, waves of immigration and the Industrial Age.
The following timeline details the successful rebirth of the site as one of Winnipeg’s most important landmarks and illustrates the changes at The Forks over the years.
The Forks 6,000 years ago
Extensive archaeological investigations prove that Aboriginal groups were active at The Forks site thousands of years ago. Between 1989 and 1994, a series of archaeological digs were carried out at The Forks that proved camps of Aboriginal bison hunters flourished here. Unearthed was a 6,000 year old hearth, yielding catfish bones and stone tool flakes, as well as numerous later campsites. These recovered materials provided a rich record of Aboriginal occupations up to the time of the fur trade when Nakoda (Assiniboins), Cree and Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) and Dakota visited the site.
The Forks during the fur trade 1738-1880
The first Europeans came via canoe in 1738, when La Vérendrye erected Fort Rouge, the first of many forts and trading posts erected in the area. Known as the Red River Colony, the forts were within striking distance of The Forks because of its significance as an Aboriginal meeting place. The region provided rich food resources along an important transportation route including fish, waterfowl, game and, most importantly, bison, along an important transportation route. The Forks was the hub of the fur trade until the 1880s, when grain production became western Canada’s principal industry.
The Forks and the Railway 1886-1923
Beginning in 1886, The Forks emerged as one of the key sites of early railroad development on the Prairies. The rail yards of the Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway Company, the Canadian Northern, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad and the Canadian National Railway dominated the site. Many of the buildings now seen at The Forks date from this time. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway stable and the Great Northern Railway stable were joined together to fashion The Forks Market and the National Cartage Building is now home to the Johnston Terminal. Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway Company’s Buildings and Bridges Buildings (B & B) now houses The Manitoba Children’s Museum, while Union Station (built by Warren and Wetmore, the same architects who designed New York City’s Grand Central Station) is still in operation.
The Forks and Immigration 1870-1920
In the late 1800s, the Canadian government began actively promoting immigration, settlement and railway development across the Prairies. Winnipeg became known as the “Gateway to the Canadian West” because the Canadian government erected two immigration sheds at The Forks, each accommodating up to 500 people. Legions of immigrants came through the site ultimately changing the physical and cultural landscape of the city and all of western Canada.
The Forks Today
Today, The Forks is a vibrant downtown Winnipeg public space where people gather for celebrations, recreation and, much like the early Aboriginals, to meet one another. It encompasses an interpretive park, revitalized historic and new buildings, skateboard park, historic port and offers a host of year-round outdoor and indoor attractions. With over four million visitors each year, The Forks is the city’s number one tourist attraction.
Heritage Advisory Committee
The Forks established a Heritage Advisory Committee in 1988 to provide advice on heritage matters on the site.
The all-volunteer advisory group is comprised of members representing a body of knowledge and professional experience including archaeology, history, education, heritage interpretation planning, Aboriginal heritage, and architecture and heritage preservation.
The Committee provides advice on the implementation of The Forks Heritage Interpretive Plan's goals:
- To identify, preserve and protect heritage resources at The Forks;
- To promote interpretation of heritage resources at The Forks; and
- To encourage community participation in development and operation of heritage interpretive programming at The Forks.
Canadian Heritage River Interpretive Panel
The Red River interpretive panel was designed to commemorate the national designation of the Red River as a Canadian Heritage River. Completed through a partnership between The Forks and RiversWest, the panel includes images of events that took place along the Red River and The Forks during its early history up to the present. The Red River panel was unveiled during the Canadian Heritage Rivers conference in June 2007 and is located on The Forks Historic Rail Bridge.