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Fort Museum marks six decades since ‘official’ opening

When the South Alberta Horse Artillery fires its cannon Saturday, Aug. 3 it will mark 60 years since a cannon was fired to mark the official opening of The Fort — Museum of the North West Mounted Police.
On Saturday, Aug. 8, 1959, it was World War One veteran and long-time Fort Macleod postmaster Frank P. Walshe leading the firing party.
The cannon fired that day had been silent for about six decades, but it was originally used by the North West Mounted Police when their headquarters was on the island in the Oldman River east of the present town site.
The Fort Museum will hold its Heritage Day celebration from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3.
While its not an official anniversary celebration, the importance of the historic date is not lost on the present operators of the Fort Museum.
“I am deeply honoured and proud to be continuing such a wonderful legacy,” Fort Museum manager Sandi Davis said.
The official opening in 1959 culminated years of planning and work to erect an operate a fort replica.
The museum’s stockade and blockhouse were built in 1957, when the museum first opened to the public, and more buildings were added in 1958.
Fort Macleod Historical Association chairman Norman Grier said during opening ceremonies there was strong community support for construction of the museum.
Grier said it was the society’s intention to commemorate the founding of the fort by the North West Mounted Police and to preserve the traditions “of that fine body of men who made their memorable forced march into hostile Indian country in 1874,” according to The Macleod Gazette.
At the opening ceremony, federal Justice Minister E. Fulton Davie unveiled a memorial plaque that read: “This museum, dedicated to further the knowledge and appreciation of the part played by the North West Mounted Police in the colourful history of Alberta, commemorates the founding of Fort Macleod by the North West Mounted Police in 1874.”
Other dignitaries attending the opening ceremonies included Senator Jim Gladstone, Macleod MP Lawrence Kindt, Lethbridge MP Deane Gundlock; Public Works Minister James Hartley, RCMP Commissioner C.E. Rivett-Carnac, Deputy Commissioner George McLennan, Inspector J.A. Young, Blood Tribe Chief Shot on Both Sides and Peigan Chief John Yellow Horn.
Another distinguished guest was John D. McCurdy, famous for flying the Silver Dart, the first heavier than air machine in Canada in the experimental days of airplanes 50 years earlier.
Tribute was paid that day in 1959 to several oldtimers including Col. James Macleod’s son Norman Macleod; Helen Mills, who was born just outside the original fort and who turned the sod for the museum in 1957; Mabel Perkins, the first white child born at old Fort Walsh; Joe Potts, son of famed Mounted Police guide and scout Jerry Potts; and Mrs. E. McEwan, 95, another area pioneer resident.
In an editorial in the same edition that provided coverage of the museum opening, the Gazette wrote:
“Fort Macleod has received some fine publicity as a result of the opening of the museum and attendance figures have taken a substantial jump. This brings business to the town, of which there is ample evidence in the volume of U.S. currency which finds its way into store, motel and hotel cash tills.”