Fort Point (unofficial name), Fort Point Close (Invermere)
It was a small step to take the idea of commemorating David Thompson and blend it with Invermere’s desire to stand out as a tourist destination.
Fort Point gets its name in recognition of the David Thompson Memorial Fort, which was “western Canada’s first purpose-built historically themed tourist attraction,” and which stood at the end of the point from 1922 until 1969.1 This post is coming out on the 100th Anniversary of the opening ceremonies of the fort: the fort was opened on Wednesday, 30 August 1922, with further events following through that long weekend.
As the name “Fort Point” has come to encompass the broader area, I’m going to talk about both the fort and some of the other developments in the vicinity. This post will cover the context that brought about the fort and the opening of the fort (including a bunch of photos). There will be a second post to discuss what happened after that.
It Starts with a Dream
The idea of constructing the David Thompson Memorial Fort began in 1920 as a hopeful attempt to attract tourists into the valley. This was immediately following the end of the First World War, and the economy of the valley was struggling.
As some context, before the war, the town of Invermere had been established as a resort town for the Columbia Valley Irrigated Fruitlands Company (CVIF), complete with polo grounds, a horse racing track, and a golf course. Construction on the Banff-Windermere Highway had also begun, in 1912,2 and the Kootenay Central Railway was opened at the beginning of 1915.
The outbreak of war, however, and the exodus of settlers, caused a slump in real estate and the economy. Work on the Banff-Windermere Road had stalled in 1915, as its investors, the Canadian Pacific Railway and the provincial government, refused to put more money into the project. Business owners and investors in Invermere became desperate for the road to be completed and, with a certain amount of lobbying, Invermere local Robert Randolph Bruce brokered a deal in which the federal government agreed to complete the road in exchange for the provincial government granting the feds a stretch of land five miles (eight kilometers) on either side of the road for use as a park. This deal established Kootenay National Park, in 1920, and road construction resumed.
With the long-awaited and exciting promise of an automobile road, Invermere merchants and property owners put an increasing amount of faith in the economic opportunities of automobile tourism. Travel by automobile was much more egalitarian than train travel, being geared less towards the wealthy and more towards the middle-class, with auto-tourists having more opportunity to choose to stop for various attractions. All that was needed were attractive attractions, and for that, they looked no further than Canterbury Point.
Located just outside the early official town boundaries of Invermere, Canterbury Point already played host to some leisure activity. The Invermere Golf and Country Club, formed in 1914, built a nine hole course in early 1915,3 “skirting the lake shore” of the point.4 It is very possible that this course was a continuation of the “first class golf course” said to be available in 1911 to pre-war settlers in Invermere.5 A golf clubhouse was added in the years following, complete with a kitchen and verandah added in 1918.6
Lake Windermere Camp
In anticipation of the Banff-Windermere Highway finally being completed, meanwhile, in 1920 the CPR and the Invermere Hotel Company made joint plans to construct the Lake Windermere Bungalow Camp along the lake shore of the point.7 This was initially planned as a “tent city,” but after representatives of the CPR inspected the site, the decision was made to built twenty-five “rustic cabins”, which would be more permanent.8 The cabins, located down close to the lake, gave private accommodation for at least fifty visitors, while a central community hall, located further up the hill, offered a larger space, “for dancing and social recreation.”9
Construction on the camp began in April 1920, and the official opening was on 1 July 1920, although records suggest that construction was not actually completed until a couple of weeks after that.10
There is some documentary confusion over the ownership of the camp. Although the CPR had it constructed, they reportedly did not want their brand too closely associated with its rustic nature, and so the Invermere Hotel Company agreed to take over and operate the camp once it was completed.11 Indeed, one of the reasons to build the camp in the first place was to expand the capacity of the Invermere Hotel to accommodate larger numbers of tourists.12 In practice, however, Lake Windermere Camp appeared regularly in promotional material for the CPR, so it seems that the company soon got over its hands-off approach to managing to site.
A tourist camp and a golf course were all well and good, but local business leaders were well aware that this might not be enough. Invermere was, after all, well off the main north/south auto road passing through the valley, and so potential visitors had to be tempted to make the detour. Leaders were determined to establish Invermere as a recreational and tourist destination, and to accomplish this they needed some kind of special attraction to lure motorists off the main highway and across the river. Which is where the David Thompson Memorial Fort comes in.
Why a David Thompson Memorial?
The North West Company fur trader, David Thompson, was in the early 1900s still a relatively obscure historical figure. Back in 1888, surveyor Joseph Burr Tyrell had come across Thompson’s maps and journals and published a pamphlet about his travels, yanking Thompson out of historical obscurity and spurring interest from other amateur historians.13 Tyrell went on to publish an edited version of Thompson’s journals through the Champlain Society in 1916, igniting an even broader interest both in Thompson and in the history of western Canada.
Meanwhile Invermere local, Basil G Hamilton, who moved permanently to the area in 1910 (he had visited previously), was one of those amateur historians, and he read everything that he could about Thompson. Using these resources, Hamilton identified the location of Thompson’s local fur trading post, Kootenae House,14 along an old tributary of Toby Creek, and he wanted Thompson to be locally commemorated in some way.
In the post war years, as Invermere business leaders were looking to attract visitors, it was a small step to take Hamilton’s idea of commemorating Thompson, and blend it with Invermere’s desire to stand out as a tourist destination. Surely some of these new auto-tourists venturing out to explore parts unknown would want to follow in the steps of David Thompson.
The result of these compounding interests was not exactly subtle. By autumn 1920, Robert Randolph Bruce, “was proposing to develop a major historically themed tourist attraction in the form of a life-size model of a nineteenth-century fur trade post.”15 People were interested in David Thompson? Well, Invermere would give them David Thompson.
A Novel Idea
Bruce’s proposal was, in 1920, completed unprecedented in western Canada. Historical tourism was in its infancy, even down in the United States, and the Memorial Fort pre-dated any programme to preserve and recognize even existing old Hudson Bay Company (HBC) buildings in British Columbia.16
Although the reconstruction would be marketed as a reconstruction of Thompson’s original Kootenae House, the proposed location for the fort was miles away on a prominent location at the end of Canterbury Point. It was very near to the Lake Windermere Bungalow Camp, as well as the golf course, and was on lands owned by the CVIF, a company in which R.R. Bruce was very much involved. Bruce approached both the HBC and the CPR for financial support of the project, receiving $2,500 and $7,500 respectively.17
Construction on the fort began in June 1922, its design incorporating features from various surviving fur trade posts.18 It included a central log building on a stone foundation, a surrounding log palisade wall, and log towers (bastions) at each of the wall’s four corners.
The main building of the fort consisted of a huge hall with a polished fir floor, “suitable for dancing.”19 There was a balcony encircling the room on three sides, and a large stone fireplace on the fourth. It was hoped that, “in time, articles relating to the vanished fur trade, of commerce, and of manufacturers of the early days” would be assembled to make the fort building into a museum.20
Planning the Opening
At first it was hoped that the opening of the fort would coincide with the opening of the Banff-Windermere Highway, but as it became clear that highway construction was taking longer than hoped, in July 1922 it was announced that the fort would officially open over Labour Day long weekend of 1922 – on 30 August 1922.21
CPR organizer Louis Olivier Armstrong, brother to one time steamship Captain Francis P Armstrong, arrived in August to arrange the programme for the “Lake Windermere District Gala Week.” Taking the original programme, which included a flotilla of large canoes, a stampede, horse racing, and a dinner, Armstrong added “Indian pageants”, French Canadien dances, and canoe races. His most significant addition, however, was a reenactment of the arrival of Reverend Father DeSmet through the area in 1847 – despite this being decades after Thompson’s arrival in 1807.22
A Gala Event
The day of the opening festivities, promoted as “Pioneers’ Day”, arrived, and the interior of the Memorial Fort was stuffed with iconic western artifacts, including “Indian exhibits” of masks, drums, and a couple of totem poles, as well as fur trade items including flags, canoe paddles, and taxidermied animals (see photo above).23
There was extensive photographic coverage of events (as well as a movie crew), so perhaps its best to use this as an opportunity for a picture show.
The day began with a half dozen large canoes paddled up to the point by local settlers dressed as voyageurs, with James L McKay playing the role of David Thompson.
The flotilla was greeted by a group of First Nations men, dressed in “traditional” garb, and the two parties opened the packs carried by the “traders” and went through the motions of exchanging furs and blankets.
The group then headed towards a teepee encampment of local Indigenous families along the crest of the point, where First Nations men were joined by women and children (also in “traditional” clothes). All First Nations attendees received groceries and a small payment for their participation.24
A pantomime of a more modern time followed, with Rev Father DeSmet, played by Rev CE Evans, approaching.
The group then approached the entrance of the Fort, which was guarded by another two local “voyageurs”, George Allen Bennett and Gilbert H Cartwright. The procession was halted until the “Factor” of the fort gave permission to enter.
Once everyone was inside, the organized pageantry was at an end, and the formal dedication of the post was begun. There were a flood of dignitaries present, including politicians, historical scholars, authors, and representatives from the HBC and CPR, so many speeches were made. Interestingly enough, I haven’t seen any photos of this part of the day.
Lunch was then served, and Indigenous participants were encouraged to pose for visitors’ photos and to answer questions about their customs. Cash prizes were also awarded in categories such as “best tepee” and “best dressed.”
The evening continued with dancing in the fort, both French-Canadien, old time, and “Indian dances,” interspersed with further speeches, songs, and an orchestra. A ceremony representing, “an Indian wedding of the old Ojibway style was [also] very realistically portrayed.”25
The week would continue with canoe races the following day (Thursday) followed by another grand ball in the Memorial Fort. Friday and Saturday were dedicated to the annual local Fall Fair, as well as a baseball match, and on Monday there was a stampede and horse races.26
There are a couple of notes to be made regarding all of this pageantry. Starting with the obvious, this was geared towards spectacle, not historical accuracy. This “history” was intended to amuse and entertain, and certainly not to educate anyone on the complexities of white settlement in western Canada. This was a celebration of an idealized and glorified past, one in which white settlers “tamed” the “wilderness” of western Canada as part of an inevitable and unstoppable story of progress.
This can be seen both in what is included in the story shared, and in what is left out. What was included is a heroic narrative of progress, with white settlers (led by David Thompson) establishing the “First White Settlement in British Columbia,” introducing trade and commerce into the wilderness, and, with the last minute addition of Father DeSmet, introducing Christianity. What is left out is any attempt to include an Indigenous perspective into this pantomime – some of the Indigenous participants would have had family members living in the area when David Thompson (and earlier French fur-traders) passed through, but none of this is included in any of the press coverage.
Instead, Indigenous participants are there to serve as representatives of a timeless, non-specific people. A number of bands participated in these events, including members from the local Kenpesq’t (Shuswap) and Akisqnuk bands, but there were also participants from other Ktunaxa Nation bands down south, and Nakoda people from across the mountains in Alberta.27
So while various present-day settlers are given the task of “playing” specific and often named historical characters, it does not matter which specific bands, let alone individuals, actually interacted with David Thompson and other white fur traders in the valley. Indigenous people are there as a non-specific representation of an “Indian”, serving as a foil to the “Pioneers” that the day was designed to celebrate. (This non-specificity can be seen in the frequent lack of names and/or bands attributed to photos of Indigenous participants – I’ve tried to include as many as I could in the photos shared here, but the records are fairly spotty).
This emphasis on the “Indian” as a monolith needs to be considered alongside the settler expectation that, as the inevitable consequence of “progress”, these unique cultures of Indigenous people were doomed to disappear. When visitors were encouraged to pose for photos with Indigenous participants and to ask, “questions about their customs and material culture,” there was an underlying understanding that those visitors were getting a glimpse of something that was destined to be lost.28 The customs of interest were not part of a living culture with a vibrant future, but a dying one, existing only in the past.
And so, in this context, all of those photos of Indigenous participants might be considered somewhat differently. All of the beautiful clothing and teepees and other items existed, in the perspective of settlers, not as items of continued cultural and personal importance to their wearers, but as costumes: they are beautiful, yes, but they were also seen as quaint items of the past, with a present importance only in looking nice, and in invoking an idealized nostalgia for a fictionalized “old west”.
It also goes unacknowledged that the techniques and practices used to make this clothing etc. were even then being strongly discouraged, as local First Nations children were required to attend the St Eugene Residential school.
On that reflective note, we’re going to leave things for this week. The fort has been built and opened and is ready for its very exciting life as a tourist attraction. To learn how that turned out, come back two weeks from now.
For in depth descriptions about the Fort and its opening, I’ve found these sources the most helpful: