Today we spent the day at one of our favourite places in Edmonton, Fort Edmonton Historic Park. Sure, Edmonton may be famous for having one of the largest malls in North America, but I’d much prefer to spend a day travelling through time. We’ve visited the park for a full day pretty much every summer that we’ve been in Edmonton and yet there are many parts of the park that I still haven’t seen.
The Fort Edmonton site is divided into four areas; Fort Edmonton, depicting life during the fur trading era in the mid nineteenth century, 1885 Street, highlighting Edmonton’s earliest days as a prairie settlement, 1905 Street, showing life in the booming town that had recently been named the capitol of the newly created province of Alberta, and 1920 Street, depicting city life in the beginning of the modern era.
One of the highlights of Fort Edmonton is the real working 1919 steam train, which travels between the visitor centre at the entrance and the historic fort twice per hour. It is staffed with volunteers; mostly older men who are steam train enthusiasts and are happy to share their knowledge of the historic train. Hopping on the train as soon as you arrive allows you to travel to the part of the park which represents the oldest era in history and work your way back chronologically through the park. On our other visits we had started with a trip on the steam train, but this time the kids were distracted as soon as they arrived by another highlight, the 1920’s midway.
The steam train as seen from the top of the ferris wheel.
Right across from the visitors’ centre as you arrive is an area set up as a vintage 1920’s amusement park with a small ferris wheel, several hand cranked kiddie rides, period midway games and my favourite, a fully restored , hand carved carousel. This carousel is actually the first ride we had ever taken with the kids and I love the video clip we have of our one and a half year old daughter riding on a horse with me, squealing with delight, while her three month old brother rides with his daddy, looking alternately puzzled and mildly alarmed as he rises up and down. This year we couldn’t resist buying the unlimited rides pass and we got to watch from the sidelines as the kids raced around the carousel between each ride, picking the horses they would ride next. Overall, the midway may be a bit tame for older kids, but our preschoolers found it thrilling, even though they’ve been to bigger and flashier parks.
Playing the fishing game at the midway
We ended up visiting the rest of 1920 Street next, including a stop at the Northern Lights cinema for a nice air conditioned break and a 20 minute film about the history of Edmonton and a ride in a vintage street car. After a brief stop to play mini golf and admire the heritage peony garden we turned down 1905 Street where we stopped in at Rutherford House, the original 1905 house of the first premier of Alberta. There we chatted with an actor who was playing the part of the Rutherford’s maid and the kids were able to take part in activities like beating carpets and cranking the handle of an old wringer washing machine.
The costumed actors were a real strength of the park for us; they were numerous, always in character and great about engaging the kids and demonstrating different aspect of historic life. There were people organizing egg and spoon races for small kids, others making lemonade in turn of the century kitchens and serving it to visitors, and people tending farms and gardens using vintage equipment. It was really neat to see the costumes change from flapper dresses on 1920 Street to starched Victorian outfits on 1905 Street to moccasins and native dress in the fort. Another authentic touch was the farm animals that were scattered around the properties, including chickens, sheep, pigs and horses. The 1885 area offered wagon rides for families and pony rides for small children as well.
I hate to admit it, but we never did end up making it to the Fort of Fort Edmonton this trip. We got as far as the pony rides, then we decided that ice cream and a return trip to the theatre would be a good idea, which required a backtrack to 1920 Street, and once the kids saw the midway again we just had to go back there. After our second visit to the carousel we all felt that six hours of wandering around in the sun was more than enough for one day and we ended up heading back home. It was probably a good call since the kids ended up eating their dinner with glazed eyes and falling asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows.
I’m pretty sure it would take several full days to explore every building in Fort Edmonton park, talk to every docent and participate in every demonstration. I loved the variety of transportation options, rides and hands on learning opportunities for kids of all ages. Fortunately for us, we have many more visits to Edmonton in our future and I’m sure we’ll be back again!