August 22, 2005

Living history

For her birthday this year, Laura decided she wanted a family adventure instead of a party. More than happy to oblige instead of planning another tea party for half a dozen little girls and their mothers and assorted uninvited siblings, we spent a warm sunny Sunday yesterday at Fort Edmonton Park, 160 acres in the middle of downtown Edmonton. It's a living history museum, similar to but not as elaborate as Colonial Williamsburg, tracing the growth and development of Edmonton from its origins as a Hudson's Bay fur trading fort in 1700, to the early pioneer settlement of 1885, to the young city of 1905, and finally the 1920s, on the verge of modernity.

Many of the buildings are originals, donated or bought and moved to the Park. Others are recreations, and all are fitted together very nicely. The fort is a recreation of the original (torn down in 1915), surrounded by real palisades and bastions, and full of real furs and skins -- bear, bison, wolf, Arctic fox, raccoon, and even a wolverine or too. The other three eras are represented by "streets," some longer than others; the 1920s era is still very much an ongoing project. For some reason the official website, mentioned above, is chintzy. This unofficial website is delightful, and you can also learn more at the official Fort Edmonton Foundation website; the Foundation does a lot of hard work coming up with the money to keep the Park going.

The big family favorites were the the ride on the
Edmonton Yukon & Pacific Railway, from the entrance to the fort, the fort itself (reconstructed as it appeared in 1846), and 1885 Street, with more than two dozen buildings including period shops (selling souvenirs), businesses, houses, and a church. At the Hutchings & Riley Harness Shop, Laura was allowed to try a girl's sidesaddle she might have used over 100 years ago

Another highlight was the invitation, from the Edwardian costumed interpreters on 1905 Street, to a gunny-sack race and croquet game on the lawn of the Anglican church. Afterwards, the kids were treated to some homemade lemonade.

The most amazing realization for Tom and me was that the Park, which is tucked away in Edmonton's river valley, is that at almost no point are you aware of the city's existence surrounding the Park -- you can't hear it and you almost can't see it (except for the glimpse of a few houses backing onto the valley near the entrance). Walking around the fort, Tom tried to remember the only time he had been to Fort Edmonton -- around 30 years ago, shortly after the fort's reconstruction in 1970.

Interesting aside, even if you don't much care for Brad Pitt -- there's talk that the new movie, "The Assassination of Jesse James," which began filming today in Calgary, will shoot some of the town scenes at Fort Edmonton Park this fall.

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