Include fort

Paul G. Olsen

Dear editor:
Sherry George is enthusiastic about establishing an (historical) interpretive centre in Fort Frances (“Take Energy Forward,” June 15). But I take issue with several of her statements, especially pertaining to Canadian and Rainy River region history, and I’ll address a few of them.
It’s grandiose thinking by Ms. George there can be something “about us that will draw the rest of Canada and the world to our door” and also “being a destination once again.”
The reality is, in my experience, very few Canadians—unless they live in Northwestern Ontario—have heard of Fort Frances. If they have, they often have no idea where the city is located.
An interpretive centre isn’t going to make a significant change to this situation.
Ms. George proposes an interpretive centre that “would celebrate our founding cultures and the way they worked together.”
If she is referring to the working relationship between aboriginal and other Canadian people in the Fort Frances area, it’s likely a complex sociological subject requiring much study, so it can’t be oversimplified, especially by making an authoritative statement about it.
One thing we do know is that Couchiching residents, for example, would likely have a much different viewpoint of this working relationship since the history of aboriginal communities located near white ones often has been one of racism and marginalization.
She also questions if [building] a fort is “really the best way to celebrate our rich history,” further stating that “Fort William is covering the fur trade topic very well.”
In reality, Fort William was an important part of the fur trade for many years, but the history of this industry is very extensive and only as part of it is interpreted at this reconstructed fort.
The North West Company fur trade depot and the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade post that became Fort Frances in 1830, both located on the Rainy River where the town is situated, had their own unique histories.
For example, this fort included the development of the “half-breed” community connected to it, which was part of the Métis Nation.
Fort Frances also was where the development of agriculture in the Rainy River region began to any extent.
It’s because of the fort the town exists, of course, so a reconstruction of it (the fort was about half a hectare in size) would be necessary to properly interpret a significant part of the city’s history.
Contrary to what Ms. George wrote, there wasn’t always “a welcoming hand from the natives” towards Europeans in this country.
This situation goes back to the hostilities between the Beothuk Indians and the Vikings on Newfoundland that occurred about 1000 A.D.
In this region, the Ojibway on Lake of the Woods weren’t happy on at least one occasion when they met some of the first European explorers, emphatically telling them it was their land and they weren’t welcome on it.
Indeed, some of the early Europeans in this area lost their lives because of being unwanted by the natives.
Specifically, the Sioux in 1736 massacring Jean Baptiste La Verendrye, Fr. Aulneau, and 19 other men on Lake of the Woods.
They suspected La Verendrye of giving guns to their enemies—the Assiniboine and Cree people.
She also stated “that the best thing to come out of the fur trade was that two cultures met on equal footing and lived in mutual respect of each other.”
Equal footing? They were far apart in this respect. The European culture, because it was much more technologically, socially, and culturally advanced, dominated and colonized the natives, of course.
Mutual respect? There wasn’t any. The French and English colonial governments had a paternalistic attitude towards the natives, and so did the Canadian government, which the latter still has to this day (the Indian Act, for example).
In fact, the best thing that came out of the fur trade for the Europeans is that it led to the development and expansion of western and northern Canada.
For the natives, it had mixed results. Colonization of them ended their inter-tribal warfare, and through the residential schools, these neolithic people became literate and numerate.
But they also were dispossessed from their lands and became dependent on the state for their welfare.
Regardless of Ms. George’s idealism and revisionist history, she means well, so I commend her for bringing the idea of an historical interpretive centre forward. However, it should include a reconstructed fort.
It likely would be a very positive benefit for Fort Frances and the Rainy River region, just like the reconstruction of Fort William has been for Thunder Bay.
Paul G. Olsen
Rainy River, Ont.