Dreams of Fort Garry

In 1931, Phillips provided 23 wood engravings as illustrations for a lengthy poem entitled Dreams of Fort Garry by Robert Watson.

Phillips provided a detailed description of his original visit to Upper Fort Garry at this time.

One warm, still, summer day I found myself a willing prisoner within a stone fort. I sat in a chair in the broad shade of a tree and watched the golden leaves fall gently on the lawn. Gardeners raked together little heaps of leaves, but not so hurriedly as to disturb the peace. The boles and branches of the golden poplars were shadowed upon the wall in quaint patterns. Loopholes pierced the thick limestone at frequent and regular intervals, and reminded me that once this was a stronghold and a safe retreat. In reality this fortress that the masons built more than a hundred years ago always has been a haven of rest. . Neither bullets nor arrows ever broke on its defences. One of the bastions at the corners of the rectangular enclosure was indeed used as a powder magazine but the other impregnable roundhouses were utilized by the cook, the sutler, and the ware-houseman.

Within the walls are several large buildings, all of stone. On the verandah of the largest I had my lunch — not of pemmican or buffalo steak, but a well-served modern meal. Now a group of ladies is seriously occupied over a game of bridge. I hear their voices. Later in the afternoon men will come from the city, and they will play golf on the links behind.

Alexander Ross wrote in 1856, 'Lower Fort Garry is more secluded; although picturesque and full of rural beauty. Here the governor of Rupert's Land resides, when he passes any time in the colony. To those of studious and retired habits it is preferred to the Upper Fort.'

It has always been like that, I know, perfectly peaceful.

The play of sunlight is amusement enough for a lazy man, but the deep shadow, vibrant, dramatic, which extends to the bastion itself with its red roof partially screened by vivid foliage, and the rich green sward these will not be denied. I look again, unwilling to be disturbed even by beauty. No use! I have to make a sketch; the pictorial possibilities of the scene are too much for my professional eye. Afterwards I sketched furiously — fifteen drawings, no less, on that sunny afternoon. I sketched the sundial, the trees, the walls, outside and in, the doorways, the boat-landing, and the river, the turnstile — everything. Then I smoked a pipe on the riverbank which is only a few yards from the outer wall.

It was easy to imagine the fast canoes or the brigades of York boats coming round the bend. They say you could hear the crews singing before the boats came in sight, I could imagine that too, and the eagerness and interest of the nice folk at the fort as they waited. I saw the broad path up from the Landing; it is not obliterated yet. Along here the sturdy boatmen came, laden with bales of merchandise, laughing, shouting, eager to get to the shop to be paid off and be free to attend to their friends or their families. Or in winter, when the snow drifted to the height of the walls, there were the comings and goings of the dog-trains — their drivers resplendent in blanket coats and gay sashes, huskies bedecked with ribbons and bells. It is cold; but within doors huge fires of oak create an atmosphere of cheer and warmth, and the long evenings are spent sociably in conversation, or, when the fiddler sets his chair on the table, in the rollicking activity of the Red River jig.

The fort is not only a relic of the past, nor is it only a house of memory. Rather it is the expression in stone of the continuity of life, its easy flow, its imperceptible transitions. The mason who laid these courses lived until 1898 — not so long ago, it seems to some of us.

Later on I converted all my sketches into wood-engravings, and by introducing appropriate figures, by refloating the old boats, and reenacting the few historical incidents connected with the fort, suggested the manner of life lived there. This set of engravings was published by Stovel's of Winnipeg.

Although it was originally intended that the blocks be used in the printing of the book, the maple blocks were not strong enough to withstand the pressure of the presses at Stovel's in Winnipeg, and the prints were apparently reproduced through photolithography instead.


Thumbnails of Dreams of Fort Garry

Back to Prints from 1931
On to Prints from 1932.