Back in time – Fort Edmonton
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  Posted February 8th, 2015 by Zdenko  in Edmonton | No comments yet.

Edmonton heritage

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Great place to spend the day and walk through time
Company in town? Looking for a great day of fun, learning and relaxation? Fort Edmonton is the place to go! I love Fort Edmonton. I truly do. It’s a fun, accessible place for people to learn about local history, and for families to spend time together.

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But increasingly, my visits fill me with certain melancholia. I was at the Fort last Summer with the guests from Croatia. The parking lot was jammed full, but the park itself is so large, it didn’t feel crowded, just happily busy. We saw all kinds of visitors, speaking all kinds of languages, taking in the beautiful late summer day. But despite the weekend throng, and the special occasion, most of the park buildings were sitting empty, without interpreters to bring them to life.

DSC_8927Tourists in front of the old Fort

Providing the best in living history, Fort Edmonton Park is nestled on 64 hectares (158 acres) of wooded parkland along Edmonton’s river valley. What began as a Canada Centennial project in 1967 to reconstruct the old Fort Edmonton, quickly grew to encompass much more. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Rotary Club of Edmonton and the Fort Edmonton Foundation, the Park now includes the 1846 Hudson’s Bay Fort as well as the Streets of 1885, 1905, and 1920, depicting the evolution of Edmonton’s early history. Fort Edmonton Park is owned by the City of Edmonton and operated by the Fort Edmonton Management Company.

Fort Edmonton park is a wonderful stroll back to the early days of Edmonton. You can amuse everyone from children to adults with what is presented in the park and realize that it is a fun way to learn about your heritage. I Loved the displays and the character actors that enliven the place.

fort-edmonton-park-03Edmonton, Yukon & Pacific Railway

History through the decades, living story tellers, old fashioned photos, best cinnamon buns ever, livestock to pet and make friend with, fun rides at the fair, train ride, cable car through town, picnic under the trees, relax in the park… there is even an arcade! Exhibits are amazing and some of the actors place their rolls as thou they are from that past time. There is train ride, tram ride, old own, antique cars, theater, souvenir shop, work shop… guys making a boat with old tolls. This place is more than worth going too. Please take a camera, you won’t regret it. Plus it’s close to river too. Good place for picknick. Good place for young 5 yr old to senior citizen.

DSC_8939Reflection to even older times…

There is even an open hotel. The Fort Edmonton Hotel has comfy beds, good space, historic, great staff, excellent price, delicious meal and wine. Little overpriced to my liking… You can have the entire park to yourself after dark (kinda spooky but a great adventure).

DSC_8980Hotel Selkirk – The one and only Fort Edmonton Hotel

Fort Edmonton Park is a place where time has stopped and is waiting for you to experience life as it was through four historical periods between 1846 and 1929. Go back in time more than 150 years and walk through the days of the fur trade, and the pioneer years of 1885, 1905 and 1920. Costumed interpreters bring the past to life, answer your questions and invite you to experience the best of the period. Take a ride on a steam train, play pioneer games, bake bread the old-fashioned way, shop ’til you drop, or hit the Midway for rides games and more fun – it’s all right there waiting for you.

DSC_8951First immigrants in Edmonton via their ‘prairie schooner’ covered wagon

The interpreters we did meet, whether staff or volunteers, were all terrific – knowledgeable, witty, and outgoing. Some of them stayed fiercely in character, enacting their parts – like the bemused young accountant we met on 1885 Street, who’d just arrived in Edmonton from Winnipeg, via his ‘prairie schooner’ covered wagon, because he’d been told that Edmonton had warm winters and no mosquitos. Others, like the daughter of Fort Chief Factor John Roward, who invited us to tea, slipped out of character from time to time, the better to answer visitor questions – and foretell her own death from consumption.

DSC_8907Tourists line up for the ride in the old train

Edmonton, Yukon & Pacific Railway
We took a ride into the past on the Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific Railway, original streetcars, buggy rides, wagon rides, stagecoach or pony rides. Your admission includes unlimited rides on the 1919 Baldwin Steam Train, which will take you from the train station to the 1846 Hudson’s Bay Fort and return if you wish. Free of charge. The old train is able to accommodate some strollers.

History about the Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific Railway
The Calgary and Edmonton Railway reached Strathcona in 1891. Appeals by Edmontonians for the railway to be extended across the North Saskatchewan river, or at least to the water’s edge, were refused by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. The Federal Government appeared indifferent to providing a bridge connection. Frustrated by these responses, some Edmonton businessmen obtained a charter for the Edmonton District Railway in 1896. Unable to build the railway, the charter was acquired by a group of railway promoters from eastern Canada headed by William Pugsley, a former attorney general of New Brunswick. These promoters, excited by the discovery of gold in the Yukon, had the charter amended to allow an extension of the railway to the Territory. And that was the extent of their activity.

By August, 1898, the charter had been acquired by William Mackenzie and Donald Mann of the Canadian Northern Railway Company, who had the name changed to the Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific Railway (EY&PR). The charter permitted them to build “…either to the Yellowhead Pass or the Peace River Pass…to a port in…British Columbia.” By then, the Federal Government finally decided to provide funds for a bridge across the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton, which was completed in mid-1900.

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Having obtained permission to use the bridge for their railway, Mackenzie and Mann started construction of the line. A connection with the Edmonton and Calgary Railway was effected in early October, 1902 and the first train arrived at the Edmonton station below McDougall Hill on October 20th. The extension from the flats to the Canadian Northern main line was completed on November 30, 1905. The extension to Stony Plains was opened in June, 1907.

The new main line from Edmonton, which eventually reached Vancouver, was routed through St. Albert and the Stony Plain extension remained a spur.15

train-cabooseRailway Caboose

Streetcar
Your admission includes rides on the streetcars, which ride the rails to 1905 and 1920 streets. The Edmonton Radial Railway Society restores and maintains all of the Park’s streetcars.

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1846 Fort – A Fort Built on Fashion
Fort Edmonton was the most important Hudson’s Bay Company post west of the Red River Settlement at Fort Garry (near modern Winnipeg). The Fort not only traded furs, but produced goods and supplied other smaller posts. Explore the Fort. See the giant York boats and find out how they were made. Watch a demonstration of the fur press. Play traditional Aboriginal games.

DSC_8944Inside one of the shops at Fort Edmonton

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1885 Street – The Promise of a Bright Future
In 1885, Edmonton was a hardscrabble place, dusty or muddy depending on the season, and, in economic and social terms, quiet as the grave. And yet, there were signs that this wasn’t just any small town. Stop in at Jasper House bakery for a snack of something freshly baked. Visit the blacksmith and wheelwright. Tour Kenneth McDonald house and pump some water for tea. Check out the livery stables and hitch a ride to another period in time.

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1905 Street – Thrilling Times
From 1891 to 1914, Edmonton grew from an isolated hamlet of a few hundred to a modern city of more than 72,000. Visit the Henderson Farm and the famous round barn. Explore the Masonic Hall and museum. Play around at the Penny Arcade. Do some shopping at Reed’s Bazaar.

DSC_8978Fire station

1920 Street – Tough Times, Modern Times
By 1920, modern times had indeed arrived in Edmonton with electrifying changes. Women officially became persons under Canadian law and became active setting new precedents in sports, the workplace and the voter’s booth. Visit the Ukrainian Bookstore. Stop for tea at the Hotel Selkirk. Play a round of golf at the Tom Thumb Miniature Golf Course. Take in the cinema at the Capitol Theatre. Get your wings at Blatchford Hangar.

DSC_8977Modern streetcar on the streets of ‘Fort Edmonton Park’

The Capitol Theatre takes us back to the 1920s
Near the end of our trip, we stopped to visit the new $14-ish million Capitol Theatre – that over budget recreation of a vintage Edmonton movie house, specially designed to show an extremely expensive, state-of-the-art Disney-style movie, complete with seats that shake and rumble and fake snow that falls from above. I’ll admit I was impressed, in spite of myself, with the general quality of the 12-minute film about Edmonton that runs every half-hour. Ah, but here’s the catch. When you walk into the theatre lobby, you’re supposed to be greeted by a clever little pre-show, something akin to the way you’re greeted at the Disney parks’ Haunted House. The disembodied voice playing the role of Mrs. McGillicuddy, the theatre’s actual box office manager, is supposed to give you a little history of the movie while you watch a sort of introductory video.

DSC_8983The Capitol Theatre

But this is not what happened when I was visiting. Instead, we were greeted by a pleasant volunteer, in 1920s period attire, who informed us, apologetically, that the pre-show video equipment wasn’t working. Without any high-tech props or audio visual effects, she cheerfully and energetically gave us the history of the theatre, and some tips on how better to enjoy the show. She was fresh and funny – not to mention three-dimensional and interactive. She didn’t need to be plugged in or rebooted, either.

DSC_8996Motorhome with vintage cars

The businesses, cultures and food that culminate in a great day and great way to spend with family. Cudos to all involved that make it such a unique place.

Have a good and healthy season.

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