Comfortable Establishment

I suppose, like most taxpayers, I get a little steamed when I see the amount of money that the government wastes on various boondoggles. I do not know how much money our fearless leaders in Ottawa spend on Parks Canada, but I’m sure that within any large organization there is some waste. I am pleased, however, to realize that some of the money that this government department receives actually makes its way into projects that restore these sites to a living state.

I think it ironic that the Americans, who are portrayed as poorly educated, seem to have a much better grasp and appreciation for their history. Romance and patriotism are fondly fostered in their tradition. It certainly is true that the American study of history is U.S.-centric, showing to all their point of view, but at least a premium is placed on that subject. Most of us are not knowledgeable enough to appreciate the significance of various historic points in our past without the help of the costumed interpreters who guide us through these restorations, like the ones established by our National Parks system.

As we drove across the Canadian West last summer, we had the good fortune to visit a number of Parks Canada sites. Because my bent is more historical than recreational, I took note of those places where watermarks from Canada’s past showed themselves. Perhaps the most important site is Banff which is Parks Canada’s very first preserve.

I composed this painting after visiting Lower Fort Garry. Built between 1830 and 1839, Lower Fort Garry, thirty-two kilometers north of Winnipeg, served as a depot for the fur trade for the Hudson’s Bay Company. The actual trading room, or store, was stocked with every article that a trapper could need, but interestingly almost no actual money changed hands. Trade was the name of the game. I found it fascinating to see stacks of pelts of various kinds in an upper storage room above the company store—rows and piles of fur in stripes of gray, umber and burnt sienna. These colours contrasted with the pale yellow of the pine interior.

Standing in the dim light with dust particles illuminated by the shaft of afternoon sun, it was easy to imagine the fur business which was so much the reason for Canada’s beginnings. Even the smells from the furs and the wood fires added to the experience. This visit would have tinted my whole view of our past if I had been able to experience this when I was a child. Now restored to a like-new condition, this garrison is staffed with costumed interpreters.

Over many years I have visited historical sites preserved and staffed by Parks Canada. Parks Canada has opened their photo files in Ottawa to me and anyone else who is really interested. I have painted Sir John A. MacDonald’s house in Kingston and here at home, Woodside, once the boyhood residence of William Lyon Mackenzie King. The staff members at the various historic sites are so well informed and sincerely interested in the complex, but fascinating, story of our past. I say, “Three Cheers for those Parks Canada people who help us gain and hold our history.”