An ideal means of celebrating Red Deer’s history will be running Aug. 23-24th during Fort Normandeau Days.
Organizers say the purpose of the annual event is to celebrate the three founding cultures at the Red Deer Crossing – the First Nations, the Métis and the Europeans.
Other highlights include live music with local groups including St. Groove and Ol’ Boots & The Hoots, plus battle demonstrations, children’s activities, a food truck and a tipi village set up by the Red Deer Native Friendship Society on both days as well.
Fort Normandeau, which is where the community of Red Deer first originated from, is located 7 km west of the City at the end of Rge. Rd. 280.
“On Saturday, it runs from noon to 8 p.m. with entertainment from 4 to 8 p.m. On Sunday, the hours are from noon to 5 p.m.,” said Josh Cormier, a history interpreter at the site. “There will also be the first annual Fall Fair on the Saturday as well. We are inviting local farmers and gardeners to pick up an entry form for that or visit our web site at www.waskasoopark.ca and download one from there.” Categories range from displays of vegetables to flowers to baking.
Photos and paintings will also be showcased as well.
Battle reenactments take place at 1 and 3 p.m. on both days. Although no battles actually took place at the site in the 1880s, there was growing tension throughout the community with the Riel Rebellion affecting other communities in Saskatchewan and Alberta. “The Rebellion was happening in 1885, and although it didn’t come here, it almost did. So we are having a reenactment of the Métis against the Canadian militia.”
A local group called the 65th Mt. Royal Rifles as well as the Firestick Living History Society will be onhand to help with the reenactments.
Meanwhile, the spot is rich in historical significance. Before the railway connected Edmonton and Calgary in 1893, the Red Deer River Crossing was the gateway between northern and southern Alberta.
A relatively shallow area made crossing at the site safe for myriads of travelers along the well-worn routes which were actually utilized for hundreds of years.
In 1884, a man by the name of Robert McClellan built a stopping house at the Crossing to take advantage of the traffic on the Calgary & Edmonton Trail. The next year, with the settlers afraid of violence during the Riel Rebellion, his hotel was fortified by the 65th Mt. Royal Rifles under the command of Lt. J.E. Bedard Normandeau.
The site was really the focus of the burgeoning community of Red Deer before establishment of the railroad, which drew settlers east to the City’s current location.
Over the years, the Fort itself went through different phases – serving as a stopping house, a fort and also quarters for the Northwest Mounted Police. There was also a general store on the site during those years and a ferry service was available to transport people across the river as well.
Today, as Cormier pointed out, the Crossing and its Fort commemorate the First Nations, Metis, and European people who influenced the development of Central Alberta. Throughout the summer, history is brought to life with entertaining and informative programs as well. Local Native groups also utilize the area because of its heritage and a sacred site located on the grounds, he said.
Besides the learning opportunities via the programs and key events like Fort Normandeau Days, folks are also encouraged to relax with a picnic lunch in the picturesque Red Deer River valley. The Crossing is also the ideal place to launch a canoe for an afternoon paddle down the Red Deer River.
Visitors will also want to check out the completely renovated and newly-designed interpretive centre, which was unveiled earlier this year.
The displays give detailed accounts of how Fort Normandeau and Red Deer were settled, the First Nations peoples they encountered and the reasons for the location of the settlements.
Complete with a 10-minute audio-visual program in a custom-built theatre, attendees can also expect to learn about the history surrounding Red Deer and the area that once was Fort Normandeau and the Red Deer Crossing.
“It helps visitors get a better understanding of what happened here, and how Red Deer came to be,” said Cormier. “I think it’s really important to promote our heritage and history.”
Residents will also want to take note that there is a day camp on Aug. 21st called A Day in the Life of a Soldier. Registration can be done by calling 403-346-2010.
Again, to get to Fort Normandeau, head west on 32nd St. and continue past Red Deer College over the bridge that travels over the QE II Hwy. Turn right on Rge. Rd. 280 (on the left is the Red Deer County Office and CrossRoads Church) and continue a few kilometres to the park.
For more information or fair entry forms, visit www.waskasoopark.ca.