How you will celebrate Canada’s 150th? Why not check out some of our nation’s historic sites? As of 2016, there were 976 National Historic Sites in Canada, with 171 of them being administered by Parks Canada. One such site is the Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP) East Gate Registration Complex at the east entrance to Riding Mountain.
The East Gate Complex is located on PTH 19 in the Rural Municipality of McCreary. Originally it was called the Norgate entrance — named after the one-time village of Norgate (because it was considered the gate to the north, between the Riding Mountains and the swampy area to the east).
The complex was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1992. It consists of three structures, but most impressive is the actual gate which spans the road entering the park. The gate, built in 1933, in the rustic style that had been developed in the U.S. national parks system, is the only surviving one of three such gates in Riding Mountain. The other two — the South Entrance built in 1931, and the North Entrance, built in 1936 — are no longer in existence, having been removed in the 1950s.
The east entrance gate is made up of two pavilions built of log and stone, one on either side of the road, and each topped by a cupola. A roofed sign — Riding Mountain National Park — connects the two and stretches across the roadway.
Besides the gate, the complex area includes the Whirlpool Warden’s Station and Residence (for the warden in charge of the Whirlpool Lake area in the park) and a gatekeeper’s cottage. According to Canada’s Historic Places website, each was included as “a Recognized Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.” Both used the informal, saddle-notched log style and were constructed of natural materials by local craftsmen. The warden’s residence was originally intended to provide year-round accommodation, while the gatekeeper’s residence was intended to be occupied in summer only. Presently the gatekeeper’s cottage is vacant but the warden’s residence is occupied year round by park staff, so these are not open to visitors.
Riding Mountain had been set aside as a national park in 1929, and officially declared one in 1933. The east gate complex was intended to provide an eastern entrance for travellers on the Norgate Road, as they journeyed from the village of Norgate up the Manitoba Escarpment into the park. It was developed as part of the federal government’s Depression Relief Program, which had been designed to provide employment during the 1930s. The Norgate Road was to supplant the McCreary and Ochre River trails which had traditionally provided entrance to what was, before then, forest reserve.
In time for Canada’s 150th anniversary, plans are underway to upgrade the site, beginning this spring. Upgrades will include a new parking lot, a pit privy, interpretive signs and trail connectors to other hiking trails, says Rae Kingdon, public relations and communications officer.
With free entry to our national parks available this year, apply online to receive your park pass in the mail. Go to National Historic Sites on the Parks Canada website and click on “Free Admission in 2017.” Or get one at Clear Lake in RMNP, either at the administration office during the week or at the south entrance on weekends.
For more information and historical photos of the East Gate Complex visit the Parks Canada website.