Photo Courtesy of Parks Canada
Just North of Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Highway 9, there is a little slice of land where it is always the summer of 1851 and, on the second Sunday of June, dogs take centre stage.
This past June 13th, there were more than just the historical interpreters who were bright of eye and bushy of tail as the gates opened at Lower Fort Garry, a National Historic Site run by Parks Canada. Outside the beautiful limestone walls of this old Hudson Bay Company (HBC) Fort, a number of eager visitors and their dogs were waiting patiently for the “Big Stone Fort’s Second Annual Dog Day” to get underway.

Lower Fort Garry’s Dog Day celebrates the importance of dogs in the pre-fur trade and fur trade era of North America. Kim Larcombe, Acting Volunteer Coordinator, explained to me why the Fort decided to organize a day focused on dogs in the fur trade:
“There are many reasons why we decided to celebrate dogs here at Lower Fort Garry. First and foremost, dogs have long been an important part of this country’s culture. Used for centuries for transportation, hunting, protection and companionship by European and Aboriginal people alike, their history is an integral part of Canada’s history and we felt that it should be showcased. Second, as a dog-owner I can vouch to the fact that there are not too many truly dog-friendly destinations. The fort is very popular with local people who bring their dogs here for walks, so extending this opportunity to a wider audience seemed natural.”
Dogs have always been welcome on site at Lower Fort Garry, but on Dog Day our four-footed friends are give a rare chance to step inside most of the buildings with their owners. Dogs are also given the opportunity to step back in time and try various activities that their ancestors may have done. In the company of historically costumed interpreters, dogs can pull an Aboriginal travois, a sort of A-framed carry-all; they can pull a miniature Red River Ox-cart; or even wear a tuppy, a traditional dog blanket.
During the day there are also a number of other activities and events. Owners can enter their dogs into various competitions held throughout the day, such as a fashion show judged by the Governor’s Wife, a talent show judged by the Governor himself, or a look-a-like contest. There is also an all day K9 trade show and presentations from the Diamond Disc Dogs showcasing tricks, a mushing demo, as well as agility and Frisbee freestyle routines.
If that were not enough, visitors can wander over to the Northwest bastion and step into the Fort’s bake house (where the HBC made hardtack for the Company’s tripmen) and get a special treat just for their dog!
Larcombe, who helped facilitate the first Dog Day at the Fort in 2009, told me that, “Dog Day has had a resounding positive response from the staff, volunteers and the public,” but wanted to also let people know that, “while Dog Day at Lower Fort Garry is specially dedicated to canines, the site always welcomes well behaved animals.”
If ever you find yourself in Winnipeg, Manitoba on the second Sunday of June, jump into your car, or a York Boat, with your furry friend and head North to the Big Stone Fort for a day that is sure to please you, your family and your dog.
By Kevin Mogk