Fort la Reine Museum, Portage la Prairie

Reid Dickie

Under an overcast sky, the mighty Avenger and I took a spin westward on the TCH to Portage la Prairie last Friday. A quick shop of PLP’s thrift shops, it has three, yielded just four classy 1950s glass tumblers @ $1 each at the MCC. A slow cruise through Island Park, literally a park on a large island in the middle of the Assiniboine River, and a pause for a Horts got me homeward bound. But not before a stop at the Fort la Reine Museum on the east side of PLP. The gate and all the buildings were open but Tracey Turner, the museum’s curator and manager, said they don’t officially open until Monday, May 7.

The evil-looking device next to the barber chair is an early electric hair curler!

I spent half an hour roaming the sprawling museum which is comprised of 27 different pioneer buildings and items brought into the site creating the feeling of a village.  Heritage purists disparagingly refer to these kinds of museums as “petting zoos.” They believe that heritage value exists only when the place is in situ and that value disappears when a building is moved. Not being a heritage snob, I like the clustering of buildings from various times and uses. Fort la Reine Museum displays all the qualities that I appreciate in a museum.

Such as? The pleasant feeling of an early pioneer village. When you enter there is a row of old buildings as you might find on a main drag of a prairie town around 1900. The pictures at the top are of the interior of the museum’s general store. Also on site are a replica of Fort la Reine (the original was built by La Verendrye in 1739), a red barn, St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church, fire hall, print shop, school, doctor and dentist’s offices and West Prospect Church.

Specific items on display include a York boat, Musketeer aircraft and several houses. The houses range from a reproduction of a  trapper’s crude shack, the Paul family’s log house built in 1879, the Hourie house built in 1890, the Burton house from early 1900s and the Douglas Campbell home. Each house represents an improvement in accommodations and demonstrates the development of prairie architecture from rude shacks to elegant Queen Anne Revival style homes.

The museum has a significant railroad component which includes the private rail car of Sir William Van Horne, the flamboyant general manager of the CPR, a superintendent’s car, a signalman’s shack and a caboose.

Another reason I like this museum concept is, without it, most of these buildings would have been destroyed, converted into sheds and granaries or left to rot into the prairie. Even though they aren’t in their original location, they do still exist thanks to the museum.

Tracey Turner told me they are doing something new this summer. In July and August the museum will host an exhibition about the various traveling vaudeville shows that crisscrossed the country in the early 1900s. Called Voices of the Town, Vaudeville in Canada, the exhibit is on loan from the Peterborough Museum and Archives. I’ll provide more information about the exhibit when its opening day draws nearer.

Meanwhile, the Fort la Reine Museum offers plenty to see and be amazed by. There is lots of space for the kids to run about, fascinating one-of-a-kind exhibits and friendly knowledgable staff. The museum makes a terrific Manitoba day trip. Find out more about the museum here http://www.fortlareinemuseum.ca/

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Filed under Day Tripping, Heritage Buildings, Hope, Manitoba Heritage, Museum, Pioneer Village, Pioneers, Roadside Attractions

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