Visitors to Lethbridge’s Fort Whoop-Up travel back to the late 1800s, exploring life in the wild west’s trading forts. Curious about the history of the buffalo robe, or perhaps the more salacious details of the illegal whisky trade? When people visit Fort Whoop-Up, they step back into the origins of traditional trading forts, traveling through the decades after. They’re transported to the meeting place of the Niitsitapi, or Blackfoot tribe, and other First Nations peoples along with Métis, Canadians, Americans, and British. It’s the immersible history lesson families will not forget, a story of trade, politics, people, and memorable characters who come to life in this historical location.
Enter a time of transformation
The history of Fort Whoop-Up dates back to the late 1800s and focuses especially on the time period between the mid-1860s to the early 1890s. Visitors meet historical character Naapi, who gambled in the mountains to the west of what is now Lethbridge. It’s said Naapi’s song won the black waters flowing from the eastern slopes to claim the Blackfoot territory thousands of years ago. Visitors also explore the seasons, especially the fascinating buffalo and elk hunts, berry gatherings, and waterfowl egg harvests. Next, they meet the newcomers who settled and forever transformed the traditional way of life here. Experience the 1867 Canadian Confederation that saw a scant government presence in the west that invited gold prospectors, wolfers, and those shifty whisky traders.
Moving up to 1869, visitors envision the region’s trading boom and meet Alfred B. Hamilton and John J. Healy who built a six-room trading post, soon to be damaged by fire, spurring the construction of a larger, more permanent structure that became Fort Whoop-Up. Explore its defensive building model and all its amenities including the kitchen, trading room, blacksmith shop, stables, and more. Here, all sorts of furs, firearms, tobacco, and other provisions – including whisky, the most profitable good – were exchanged. Travel through the prime years of opportunistic traders up to Prime Minister Macdonald’s formation of the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) who shut down the whisky trade in 1873. This saw Hamilton leave the Fort, Healy following three years later, leaving it virtually abandoned and sold in 1876 to Dave Akers. The year 1881 saw the fur trade end, the fort rented to the NWMP, as well as used for mail service.
The years following saw the landscape changed forever. In October of 1963, Fort Whoop-Up’s original site was declared a National Historic Site of Canada. It was reconstructed in 1967, today’s replica redeveloped in the 1980s. Today, it’s a special place that tells the story of this transformative time in our history when the buffalo robe and the whisky trade forever changed these lands.
Sharing and celebrating customs and culture
At Fort Whoop-Up, visitors are welcomed to learn the captivating history, language, and culture of the people who originated here. As they say, “Kitohkanaiksimatsimohpinnaan,” or, “We greet you all.” Enjoy storytelling and guided tours with expert interpreters. Take an old-fashioned wagon ride through the river valley and learn the legends of the land. There’s even shopping onsite to take home memorable gifts that serve as a reminder of this historical experience.
Touring Fort Whoop-Up is the ultimate adventure, entering the cultural and spiritual world of this land’s history. The Ancestors of this land have long shared this world with visitors, guided by community values including respect, honour, and integrity. This means visitors must observe these principles in turn, protecting the authenticity of historical gathering places like Fort Whoop-Up. It’s all about the privilege in sharing, learning, and celebrating an amazing history.
Fort Whoop-Up is located at 200, Indian Battle Rd. S, in Lethbridge. Annual passes are very affordable at $35.00 per year with family and senior’s rates available as well. The site follows COVID regulations – check to see if it is open before you visit.
Natalie Noble is a freelance writer and a contributor to Great West Media. This story was written for the Hot Summer Guide advertising feature. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.