By Stan Ashbee
Fort Walsh started opening in a limited way on July 21, noted Kaylee Beck from Parks Canada. Beck is the national historic site and visitor experience manager for both Fort Walsh and Fort Battleford.
“The plan for right now is we’re open seven days a week through the September long weekend and then we move to a five-day a week Tuesday through Saturday schedule until the end of September,” Beck explained, this past Tuesday.
Fort Walsh is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Driving to the Canadiana must-see locale from Maple Creek is a scenic tour through prairie landscape and winding roads into the Cypress Hills.
It’s as though you are magically transported to the set of an old Clint Eastwood western movie or other shoot ‘em up cowboy-rich cinema gem, as you make your way to the fort. The journey is indeed a part of the experience.
Beck said the fort opened in stages, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and during the Phase One stage it was just the re-opening of green spaces and trails. “We had that for a number of weeks, as we were just working behind the scenes on preparing the site to be open in a safe way for visitors.”
That’s been the majority of the work, Beck added. “Everything that has happened has been following the advice of public health authorities. Visitors shouldn’t be expecting things to be exactly the same, as they’ve been in previous years.”
Essentially, Beck continued, most of the historic buildings are open now and visitors are able to go through and see the buildings.
“We do have interpreters on-site. So people are able to come and ask questions and still get a bit of that same sort of tour experience — just in a little bit of a different way this season,” said Beck.
Beck said the best thing for visitors to do is to continue checking the fort’s website at pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/sk/walsh.
“Because we put updates there frequently with any changes,” Beck said.
Some of the changes this year include the concession area being closed for the season. “And our museum is not open,” Beck said.
But, other than that, Beck said — Fort Walsh is happy to receive visitors.
“We’re here to give people that tour experience the best we can, just following safety guidelines.”
“We haven’t had any issues. Visitors have been really receptive,” Beck said, adding from the Parks Canada perspective, the number one priority is visitor and staff safety. “People have been really good with following any guidelines we have on-site. It’s gone really well so far.”
One of the stops at Fort Walsh is the commissioner’s residence.
According to heritage presenter Donovan Kinahan, the commissioner was head honcho of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP). “He was only here when we were headquarters.”
From 1878 until 1882 Fort Walsh was headquarters of the NWMP.
“After 1882, they moved it to Regina,” Kinahan noted.
Fort Walsh was dismantled shortly after and in 1883 the fort was abandoned.
“And that was pretty much it for our history. Of course, that’s when the railway had gone through from Medicine Hat to Maple Creek,” added Kinahan.
At the very height of the fort, three-and-a-half troops or 175 NWMP members were stationed at Fort Walsh.
During the time the fort was headquarters, recruits were also trained at the historic site, Kinahan continued.
“The biggest muster of men we ever had was 253. A lot of those would have been new recruits coming in the spring and summer.”