CORCAN participants rebuild historic fence

Let's Talk: Sharing the stories and voices of CSC

CORCAN participants rebuild historic fence

April 5, 2024

archival photo of buildings beside river

Ross Cottage at Lower Fort Garry, Manitoba, circa 1899. This image shows what the original fence looked like, so was used to reconstruct it.

Mending fences is a good analogy for repairing or creating good relations. Participants of CORCAN’s Indigenous Offenders Employment Initiative did just that. By rebuilding an 1850s-style fence for Parks Canada, they created positive partnerships.

Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site is located on the west bank of the Red River, 30 kilometres north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Lower Fort Garry was built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1830s as a trading post. It was a hub for First Nations trappers and HBC traders. The stone fort is of historic importance as the site of the signing of Treaty 1, the first of 11 treaties signed between Canada and Indigenous Peoples. It was also used as a training post for the Northwest Mounted Police, Manitoba’s first penitentiary, and the first psychiatric hospital.

Lower Fort Garry is now owned and operated by Parks Canada as a living museum where staff re-enact life as it would have been at the fort during the 1850s fur-trade era. From early May to Labour Day weekend, visitors watch people dressed in period costumes demonstrate activities from that time, such as blacksmithing and candle making.

Restoring Ross cottage

Maintaining Fort Garry’s historic integrity is important, but it’s also challenging. In the summer of 2021, Parks Canada was restoring the fort’s Ross cottage, built in the 1840s. This included reconstructing the wooden rail fence that surrounded the building. Parks Canada approached CORCAN to rebuild it as an exact copy of the original fence. Participants in its Indigenous offenders Employment Initiative program were up for the challenge.

“Parks Canada was one of the best groups I’ve worked with,” said CORCAN Construction Supervisor Noel MacKinnon. “The teams collaborated very well, and work plans were taken care of efficiently.”

CORCAN’s Indigenous Offenders Employment Initiative program creates meaningful employment opportunities and provides support for Indigenous offender participants after release. The program, implemented at Stony Mountain Institution near Winnipeg in 2017, was developed in recognition of the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system.

It gives participants the chance to explore their employment potential. It is also an opportunity for them to educate others through their vocational and personal experience. The program has resulted in strong collaboration between CORCAN, Indigenous offenders, and communities. This was also the case with Parks Canada.

Building a fence

Fence reconstruction began in August 2021. It required six offenders in the shop to shape the logs into fence posts, and four onsite to assist with the installation. CORCAN instructors and offenders worked alongside Parks Canada’s Heather Beerling to go over old plans of Ross Cottage. They also reviewed images of the original fence to ensure the new one looked as much like the original as possible. They were replicating a piece of history.

collection of wooden posts

Wood used for fence reconstruction

All materials for the project were purchased from a local sawmill in Manitoba and brought to Stony Mountain Institution. 

The offenders used historic tools, such as drawknives, hatchets, and axes, to shape and mark the wood to look like realistic 1850s logs.

After Lower Fort Garry closed in September for the season, the CORCAN participants travelled to the site for two weeks to install the fence. There, they used hand augers to craft holes in each post to fit the rail posts into. The new environment and time spent with the Parks Canada representatives allowed participants to share their carpentry knowledge and learn from one another. 

It was important to use authentic building practices in the reconstruction, but the team also made some modern updates to ensure the longevity of the fence. The offenders installed metal rods in the ground and slid the wooden posts over the rods. The posts appear dug into the ground, as they would have been traditionally. However, the metal ensures the posts remain sturdy, so the fence lasts significantly longer. 

post with holes and hand tool

Fence post being hand hewn in the CORCAN shop with holes cut for rails

Fence rails in middle post

Fence rails in post made by CORCAN participants

corner fence post

Corner fence post showing rails inserted into it

“I was so impressed by how positive everyone was, the carpenters, as well as the offenders,” said Heather. 

"They told me that they liked this project because it was something different. How often do you get to go and recreate something historic? It is not the same as dry walling a building. 

So, they all told me they thought that was really neat.”

Building construction skills

Through this project, program participants had the chance to practice the construction skills they learned while helping restore the century-old fence. The combined effort of the participants, CORCAN instructors, and Parks Canada made a lasting contribution to the community. For years to come, visitors to the historic site will appreciate the authentic experience of the fort, including the fences around Ross Cottage.

“Working with CORCAN as part of their Indigenous Offenders Employment Initiative is a unique, rewarding, and successful partnering experience for Parks Canada,” Heather said.

Wooden rail fence
Wooden rail fence

Images are of the newly built fence around Fort Ross garden at Lower Garry Fort Historic site.

Like the Ross Cottage, CSC and Parks Canada are integral to the history of Canada. Building fences helped to break down barriers, allowing those involved to learn from one another. This project created pride within both organizations. It demonstrated that preserving history is important. The result was not only a strong foundation for the fence, but also a strong foundation for the relationship between the CORCAN Indigenous Offenders Employment Initiative program and Parks Canada.

CORCAN is a special operating agency within CSC that is responsible for the offender Employment and Employability Program.  For more information about CORCAN and the various programs and services provided to offenders to support their reintegration, check out CSC's CORCAN web page. You can also find more specific information about CORCAN’s various products and services at

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