Fort Whoop-Up is ready to launch a new season with a bang — quite literally.
The facility which pays homage to the area’s early history as a trading centre will kick off its opening weekend May 11 with Cannon Day. That day, members of the South Alberta Horse Artillery will hold afternoon demonstrations with a replica cannon similar to the one originally stationed at Fort Whoop-Up in the 1800s.
Cannon Day is the first of a number of special events taking place at the fort through the spring and summer months. Another special weekend is planned for June 15-16. June 15 will be Trader Day at the Fort, featuring a light supper in the fort along with tours of the fort. The next day will be Father’s Day at the Fort, offering a chance to take part in historical activities with Dad. The South Alberta Horse Artillery will be performing in the afternoon.
The fort, located in Indian Battle Park, will celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day June 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The day will be an opportunity to learn about First Nations culture while viewing a powwow and sampling traditional Blackfoot berry soup and hot mint tea.
Monday, July 1 will be Canada Day at the Fort, featuring family fun with old-time, hands-on activities.
On Thursdays from May 16 to Aug. 7, the fort will once again team up with New West Theatre to present the Trader Tales program from 7-9 p.m. featuring stories about the fort’s colourful early days as a whisky-trading centre.
The fort will also present “Life on the Whoop-Up Trail,” a dinner theatre event Wednesday nights in July and August with three New West actors and a full sit-down meal each night. The events will further bring to life the rich history of the fort.
And it is indeed a rich history. According to the history of the fort found on the Fort Whoop-Up website (https://fort.galtmuseum.com), the fort’s beginnings go back to the winter of 1869-70 when Alfred B. Hamilton and John J. Healy obtained supplies from Fort Benton, Mont., and journeyed north to establish a trading post at the meeting of the St. Mary and Belly (now Oldman) Rivers.
The spot was a traditional gathering site for the bands of the Blackfoot Confederacy and would become the centre of a booming commercial trading post system.
Originally a simple six-room structure, Fort Hamilton was badly damaged by fire, so plans were made to build a larger, more permanent fort. The man hired to head the project was William Gladstone, a former Hudson’s Bay Company carpenter. The new structure became known as Fort Whoop-Up.
As word spread about the huge profits Hamilton and Healy were raking in, it attracted other traders from Montana and the trail from Fort Benton to Fort Whoop-Up became a major route for bull trains carrying freight north and buffalo robes south.
Eventually more than 50 trading posts were operating in what is now southern Alberta, featuring names like Slide Out, Standoff, Kipp and Robbers’ Roost. “Fort Whoop-Up was the largest and most notorious of them all,” says the fort’s website.
The present Fort Whoop-Up is a replica of the one which operated in the late 1800s and offers visitors a taste of what life was like back in those rough-and-tumble days of the old west.