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L.A. Beat

Fort Whoop Up excited to focus on being a historical site rather than a flood zone

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After a couple of tough summers due to flood related damage, Fort Whoop Up is optimistic about another season of spreading the word about southern Alberta history. While the Fort is already open, the official opening is June 1.

Doran Degenstein looks at therefurbished exhibits at Fort Whoop Up. Photo by Richard Amery


“The biggest thing is we’re not as focused on doing flood related work. We’re able to work on training our staff and focussing on being a historical site instead of a flood zone, said Fort Whoop Up executive director Doran Degenstein.

 Last June,  rising flood waters forced an army of volunteers to relocate and safely store 40,000 items and staff to completely refurbish the fort.

Fortunately the  floods only destroyed two of the exhibits — a covered wagon exhibit which has been replaced with  a new First Nations exhibit featuring ceremonial headdresses.

 Degenstein said there isn’t much they can do to prevent floods and flood damage other than to ensure they have quick access to moving boxes and supplies.
“ We have a flood plan for the society, but we have limited resources. But we have a lot to learn from the events of the past two years. We looked at improving how we protect our collection,” he continued.
“ We have had a great amount of support form the 200 people who helped us to move 45,000 items that all needed to be boxed,” he said.
 “ Now we have a cargo trailer dedicated to holding emergency supplies,” he continued.

 Fort Whoop-Up covers several aspects of very exciting time in Southern Alberta and early Canadian history— 1870-72, which included a lot of American traders  coming north to seek their fortunes in the lucrative buffalo robe trades with the Blackfoot people.

“ Principally we’re about the robe trade. And yes that included alcohol. Independent traders moved north into the British Possessions after the Blackfoot moved north after the  Baker Massacre (Jan. 23, 1870),” he related.

“So two men, Hamilton and Healy opened Fort Hamilton. But business was so brisk that in July 1870, they opened Fort Whoop Up about 300 feet away,” he said.  Fort Whoop Up is open for the summer tourist season. Photo by Richard Amery
“Something that is often forgotten is that the the trade was   not uninvited. There was mutuality of economics. The traders were invited by the Blackfoot,” he said.

He noted the Fort explores that as well as the Blackfoot people themselves and the formation of the Northwest  Mounted Police a few years later.

“A lot of people think of Fort Macleod or Fort Calgary were the first Northwest Mounted Police outposts,” he  continued.
“ But they stopped at Fort Whoop Up and left men here first,” he continued.

 “ Our goal is to make sure people are informed, so they can draw their own conclusions about things,” he continued.
 Fort Whoop Up includes 12 fully equipped period rooms which explore different aspects of history, the two Blackfoot galleries (The Crowshoe and Thunderchief Galleries) and the Shockley firearms gallery.
In addition to informing the general public, they also host  schools and tour groups and participate in community events like Whoop up Days and Canada Day.

“Unfortunately Canada Day isn’t free of charge. We can’t handle the flow. Last year it was and we had 1,700 people. It was a zoo,” he continued.

 The other event they are excited about is the Firewater Festival,  Aug. 15 which which will features a lot of activities relating to Blackfoot culture  and history plus live music from Trevor Panczak, Treeline and Doug and Friends on Aug. 15.Doran Degenstein looks at therefurbished exhibits at Fort Whoop Up. Photo by Richard Amery

 Fort Whoop Up offers numerous regular events including  demonstrations of tomahawk throwing, rope making, Blackfoot storytelling, wagon rides,  barbecues, gunfighting demonstrations from the 1885 Artillery group from Bow Island, plus daily cannon firing at non and  3 p.m. A special pass will allow visitors to touch off the cannon.

They are still waiting to hear about extra funding from the STEP (Summer Temporary Employment Program) to hire students for the summer.

“We’re a little bit nervous about that, he said, adding STEP finding means they will be able to offer more guided tours.
He noted there aren’t any  scares in the media which can lead to decreased tourism like SARS and a high Canadian dollar have done in the past.

“ We started opening seven days a week in 1993 and attendance has improved every year,” he observed.
 He said even with flooding last year, attendance still increased.
“We still had a nine per cent increase last year,” he said.

 He noted Fort Whoop-Up is still working with the Galt Museum and the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens on a special three in one pass which permits attendance to all three attractions for one price which will be available as of June 17. They offer several packages offering a more thorough Fort Whoop Up experience including A VIP package including a visitation, lunch, behind the scenes tour and a chance to fire the cannon.
 On May 29, there will be a special mix and mingle including a demonstration of flint knapping, or carving arrowheads.
More information about Fort Whoop Up is available at
A version of this story appears in the May 28, 2014 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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