Marking local history

Fort Normandeau – a local site that is of tremendous historical significance – has undergone something of a makeover and it’s a welcome event in ongoing efforts of preserving a part of Central Alberta’s heritage.

Officials unveiled the newly-renovated interpretive centre this past week.

The story of the site’s past known as the ‘Red Deer Crossing’ is displayed through a variety of interactive and dramatic programs, exhibits and artifacts.

The interpretive centre also gives a detailed account of how Fort Normandeau and Red Deer were settled, the First Nations peoples they encountered and the reasons for the location of the settlements.

Staff are excited about the new look to the centre, and are anticipating a busy summer of sharing the many stories connected to the site. Throughout the summer, history is brought to life with authentic entertaining and informative live programs.

The spot is indeed 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.

Staff at the site say that the trail is ancient – it’s not just a settlers’ trail. Native peoples used it for centuries prior to the settlements made in the late 1800s.

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 Mount 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.

Today, the Crossing and its fort commemorate the First Nations, Metis, and European people who influenced the development of Central Alberta.

Besides the many learning opportunities via the programs, folks are encouraged to relax with a picnic lunch in the picturesque Red Deer River valley. It’s absolutely one of the most scenic and peaceful places in the local area. The Crossing is also the ideal place to launch a canoe for an afternoon paddle down the Red Deer River.

To get to Fort Normandeau, head west on 32nd St. and continue past Red Deer College over the bridge that travels over Hwy. 2. Turn right on Range Road 280 (on the left is the Red Deer County Office) and continue a few km to the park.