By Lethbridge Herald on March 1, 2016.
I had the pleasure of serving on the Fort Whoop-Up Interpretive Society board of directors for more than a decade, including two terms as vice-president. I can state with some insight that during my tenure, relations between the City of Lethbridge and the society were always most cordial; the city was our staunchest and most steadfast supporter and the relationship was never tenuous, as some have alluded.
What seems to be overlooked in the media fury surrounding the fortâ€™s future is the fact that the society operated the facility on a â€œfee for serviceâ€ basis. In simple terms, virtually all of the operating funds came from municipal coffers, as the fort never generated enough funds from visitation to cover operating expenses. The city supplied the funding and the societyâ€™s board of directors was responsible for deciding when, where and how taxpayersâ€™ dollars were to be spent. Although the society experienced lean times, particularly in the 1990s, it always managed to work within the guidelines of a budget.
During my years with the society, the board oversaw a major expansion of the visitorsâ€™ centre, survived the horrific flood of 1995, and all without incurring longstanding debt. I cannot speak about the workings of the society since my leaving, nor would I care to, but upon a recent visit to the fort, I was astonished by the size and scope of the inventory. In my day, we never had anywhere near that amount of â€œstuff,â€ yet we were able to meet the necessary needs of our interpretive programs.
When I read that the society owned some 10,000 artifacts, I could hardly believe my eyes and listed among them were 700 cannonballs. Seven hundred cannonballs? As an artist and historian with serious knowledge of the whiskey trade in Canada, I sincerely doubt the original Fort Whoop-Up had 12 cannonballs total. Certainly none have ever been discovered there. What was the society expecting, a war? Or were they just stock-piling in anticipation of an invasion by hard-hearted city officials?
While I feel for the societyâ€™s current financial woes, I canâ€™t help but question how, on a limited budget, they managed to accumulate almost 9,000 items in just 15 years. I, for one, applaud the choice of the Galt Museum as the new operator and watchdog for this important heritage facility.
George F. Kush