PASSION & HISTOIRE BLOG – A Day in the Life of a Voyageur at Fort Gibraltar

Kenza Zaoui - Translated by Thea Wortley

Fort Gibraltar is a destination in Saint-Boniface that attracts visitors in the winter for the Festival du Voyageur and serves as an interpretive center in the summer. The contrast between the two seasons is beyond striking, without the snow, the statues, and the tents.  I almost didn’t recognize the entrance to the Fort! 

The two experiences complement each other quite well. I visited Fort Gibraltar on a Saturday in July, a few days after the site reopened to the public. The interpreters were there to share their knowledge and anecdotes.

Fort Gibraltar

Fort Gibraltar is a reconstruction of a North West Company fort and the interpretation takes us back more than two hundred years, to 1815. The Fort was built at the Forks in 1810 but was burned to the ground in 1816 by its rival, the Hudson’s Bay Company.

At the heart of the Fort Gibraltar enclosure, you will find a garden, the blacksmith, the workshop, the trading post, the wintering hut, the Bourgeois house, and the warehouse. Each building is overflowing with historic details.

The blacksmith was one of the most important trades in the life of the Fort. The North West Company only received one thousand pounds of metal a year, and it had to be used with care. Consequently, the buildings are built completely out of wood, without nails or metal!

The Life of a Voyageur 

The Fort employed approximately 10-20 voyageurs, generally French Canadians, under the authority of the Bourgeois. Their job was to transport merchandise. Each man had to be able to carry 80 kilos / 150 pounds… You will learn about the history of pemmican during your visit, and why it was an important food source for the voyageurs!

At the time, it took approximately 100 days of canoeing and portaging to get to Montreal from Winnipeg. But with the weather conditions, it was not possible to complete the round trip before everything froze. The voyageurs based out of Winnipeg generally traveled to Fort William, presently Thunder Bay, where another team took over to transport the goods to Montreal.

And in the winter? The men stayed in wintering cabins, that served as a dormitory, a dining room, and a kitchen.

Did you notice something missing on the cards? Voyageurs didn’t know how to read or write so playing cards had only symbols and no numbers.

Come visit Fort Gibraltar

For the summer of 2020, entrance to the Fort is by donation (pay what you can) and the site is open Tuesday to Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The social distancing rules are clear and easy to respect (one group per building). You’ll find all the necessary information for organizing your visit on the Fort Gibraltar website!