First a sparkling ancient glacier blazed a wide trail through thick forests and rolling hills. Then Cree and Blackfoot travellers crossed the river here at the naturally shallow ford. Soon traders, settlers and Metis buffalo hunters rested here, weary from their long journeys carrying furs, whiskey and other goods from north to south and back again.
Today you too can stop at the crossing to hear stories of the trail-blazers have come before. And you will have lots of company too – this is a busy place during the summer for shady picnics and campfires along the river, cultural celebrations and historical re-enactments. This summer, as we celebrate Red Deer’s centennial, experience our long and lively history at Fort Normandeau.
The Crossing’s long history
For a long time before European settlers arrived here, First Nations people knew this spot as the safest place to navigate the water for a long distance around. In 1884, an enterprising hotelier (see, there have always been trail-blazers here) built a stopping place for traders, settlers and soldiers heading along the natural corridor of the Calgary-Edmonton Trail.
A military installation was established at the Red Deer River Crossing in 1885 to guard the trail and river against spreading violence from the Riel Rebellion and it was dubbed Fort Normandeau. The current incarnation of the fort was rebuilt in 1974 with some of the original century-old logs and today operates as an interpretive centre and memorial to the Blackfoot, Cree, Metis and European cultures that worked together to establish the region.
Spend a day the pioneer way
Starting May 1, costumed interpreters bring the fort’s history to life and you can participate in lots of fun oldey-timey activities. Make bannock and ice cream using time-honoured recipes or tend a pioneer garden. Watch military re-enactments and traditional First Nations dancing. And the very bravest among you can have a go at tossing a caber or chowing down on haggis.
Each summer, the site is bustling for the annual Fort Normandeau Days celebrations. This is a special weekend of lively military battles, native demonstrations, dances and ceremonies, traditional foods, craft displays and kids games. Contact the Fort for this year’s dates.
Take a restful afternoon paddle
The crossing at Fort Normandeau is also a popular canoe launch for a restful drift down the winding Red Deer River. Experience the area’s natural beauty from a new vantage point, as you glide past fluttering aspen parklands, coast into deep-cut valleys and watch for wildlife as you go with the river’s gentle flow.
You can learn more about canoeing on the Red Deer River by picking up a paddler’s map from the Fort Normandeau bookstore.