Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
At a meeting in Fort Walsh in Canada Saturday, the Old Forts Trail announced that a site in a major metropolis has joined the international historic trail: Fort Calgary is now part of the trail. “I think this is just good news for everybody,” Sara-Jane Gruetzner, ceo and president of Fort Calgary, said during an interview. “We’re just very pleased to be a part of this.” Gruetzner said that Fort Calgary, which has about 150,000 visitors annually, hopes to work closely with the other forts on the trail, including Fort Assinniboine near Havre. Gary Wilson, president of the Fort Assinniboine Preservation Association and coordinator for the Old Forts Trail, said he hopes the Montana forts can capitalize on having the large number of visitors Fort Calgary receives every year, including tourists from Europe and Asia who fly into Calgary’s international airport. “We’ve reached level one and now, of course, the goal is to keep the initiative moving forward,” he said. The Old Forts Trail recognizes the routes that in the 1800s shipped mail, people including Canadian Mounted Police en route to their stations across the border and merchandise from Fort Benton, the last spot to which steamboats could carry freight on the Missouri river, to Fort Assinniboine and to the Canadian forts until the Canadian railroad came through in 1883. He said the addition of Fort Calgary can be utilized to increase the number of visitors to each location on the trail which could be used to draw them to other attractions in the area, including sites up and down the Hi-Line in the case of Havre, Wilson said. The national historic trail is advertised through the state’s tourism department of the state Department of Commerce, and Wilson said he hopes that with the addition of Fort Calgary the advertising can increase. “I think with the addition of Fort Calgary we might be able to get a greater presence,” he said, adding “We can look at a Web site for the Old Forts Trail.” Wilson said the group representing the forts plans to meet in Calgary this fall for a marketing meeting, and the trail’s annual meeting will probably be held in Calgary next spring, with all of the forts on the trail represented for the first time. Gruetzner said Fort Calgary had 35,000 paid admissions last year, with 12,000 more students who toured the facility. Once special events are included, such as business employee recognition meetings and employee training, weddings, funerals and birthday parties, the total nears 150,000, she said. The fort was originally built to hold the Canadian Northwest Mounted Police in 1875. Gruetzner said its story is one common to western Canada, the law enforcement arm of the Canadian government, the Mounties, building new communities as well as keeping the peace. “They didn’t come out to be community development workers but that is what they did,” she said. By 1914 municipal police had taken the job of the Mounties, and the fort was decommissioned. The Fort Calgary group tries to tell the story of what happened from 1875 to 1914, Gruetzner said. “This happened here; it’s the city’s birthplace, it’s hallowed ground,” she said. “How did that shape the city we live in now?” It gives Fort Calgary a unique backdrop, she said. The fort, across the river from a Hudson Bay Co. Historic building and also next to the Calgary Stampede Park and a Calgary zoo, is four blocks from the downtown area of the major metropolis, which has more than a million residents. “It’s a very dramatic backdrop,” she said. The area is also in the midst of planning for a major urban renovation, which will greatly increase awareness of the fort, Gruetzner said. Once the renovation is done, it will increase trafFic, she said. “Once all this happens this will be like Central Park in New York (City),” Gruetzner said. The addition of Calgary is the end of about 11 years of work, Wilson said. It all started when he met with Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, and the two of them started meeting with Canadians and Montanans to build the trail. The first major completion was when legislation sponsored by Rep. Antoinette “Toni” Hagener, (D-Havre) passed creating the eastern portion of the trail, and this year legislation sponsored by Rep. Bob Bergren, (D-Havre), added the western part.