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L.A. Beat

Fort Whoop-Up gets a facelift after flood damage

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Fort Whoop-Up is getting a facelift following the July 20, 2012 flood. While it has been shut down since then while staff and volunteers salvaged displays and exhibits, the Fort has recently reopened their gift shop and a few of the rooms for pre-booked Christmas events.David Gabert sits among  Fort Whoop-Up's mannequins waiting to be  put back in the displays. Photo by Richard Amery
“It’s a long process,” sighed Fort Whoop Up executive director Doran Degenstein, after a well attended talk at the Galt Museum about the history of the Fort.

“Originally we wanted to open Oct. 15, then Nov. 15, then Dec. 15, now were looking at the Victoria Day weekend,” Degenstein said.

“ But the store is open and the saloon is open. The bunkhouse will be next,” he continued adding they have been open for special events like the City of Lethbridge’s Bright Lights festival, Nov 23 and pre-booked Christmas parties.

“ We lost about half of our office furnishings and three exhibits in the Crowshoe Gallery, the ranch and transportation exhibits,” he related, adding it was more important to save the artifacts than the furniture. So volunteers and staff were on site within hours of the flood moving what turned out to be approximately 12,000 artifacts in the collection to five off site storage units. They had originally estimated there were only about 4,000 artifacts at Fort Whoop-Up until moving and counting all of them.

“The biggest thing that saved them was we had people there within two to three hours of  the flood,” he said adding they prioritized textiles and papers to be moved first.

They are working on re-opening the exhibits.
“But they will be rebuilt,” he said adding some of them will be replaced with new exhibits. They will be adding a parlour next to the Tavern in the room which used to be the livery stable, which wouldn’t have been located there in the original fort anyway.

Degenstein said the new exhibits will include one focusing on the post-treaty period.
“We used to talk about how the whiskey trade affected the natives but it ended with the signing Treaty 7,” he said adding a lot more happened after the treaty was signed. The new exhibit will explore how the government dealt with natives after the treaty.

 They received several donations from Parks Canada to replace damaged artifacts and help them with the new exhibits.
They are hoping to be completely reopened for the Victoria Day Weekend in May.

“We had to remove three inches of mud and silt,” he said adding that meant replacing the flooring with all new materials as well as replacing drywall and insulation. The boardwalk entrance to the Fort will also be replaced as well as re-laying the red bricks in the entrance.
“All of the boardwalks had to be replaced,” he continued. In addition to new wooden sidewalks going past each of the rooms, they have also added new handicapped access ramps to each room.

Fort Whoop-Up. Photo by Richard Amery
 He estimated the flood caused $150,000 in damage, which he said was mostly covered by insurance.
The humidity posed the biggest challenge to the workers.

“We had a huge humidity problem,” he continued adding the Fort’s 700 piece firearms collection all had to be cleaned and treated as a result. They also had to redo all the wiring and computer networks because of humidity related damage. They also ended up donating approximately $5,000 worth of food being stored to the local food banks which would have spoiled otherwise.

“And we discovered 13 cabinets in the ThunderChief gallery,” he continued.
 The repairs have been a long process.

“The big stuff has been done. We had five storage bays full of artifacts. We’re finally getting everything moved. So at last we‘re down to one storage bay,” he said.
“ It is going to take a long time to get everything back,” he said.
“We had a huge volunteer corps moving everything,” he continued.

Galt Museum Community Programs Co-ordinator Leslie Hall noted they have received a lot of calls wondering what was happening in Fort Whoop-Up.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of people wondering about it ,” she said.

 A version of this story appears in the Dec. 19, 2012 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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