This is a quick overview, from someone who moved to Edmonton and didn’t grow up here, about a really neat city attraction that is historical, interactive, and entertaining: Fort Edmonton Park.
If I were to choose a phrase to describe it, the place would be a “living museum”, with actual old buildings from a time long ago in the city, complete with decorations and accessories from that time. Where there are actors who wear attires from that time, which can make visitors feel like they have traveled back in time.
My then boyfriend (now husband) and I went there for our dating anniversary, our second one, back in 2012. An idea we copied from a TV show is what we call a “superdate” which is an all-day date where one person from the couple plans all the activities without telling the other. And then, on the day of, the activities are disclosed shortly before going there. After a lovely lunch in a restaurant located in a local neighbourhood business plaza, and him buying a large stuffed giraffe too big to fit in the back seat, I told him that our next destination was Fort Edmonton Park.
Visiting the Park
Fort Edmonton Park is an reconstruction of how Edmonton looked like in its early days. There are four time periods that are represented: 1846, 1885, 1905 and 1920, showcasing how the city of Edmonton has evolved from a fur trading area, to how the first few homes and structures were built that is the starting signs of a village, to a city that is starting to grow and expand.
I personally wasn’t able to wrap my mind around what a fur trading building looked like until I visited the park for the first time. Seeing and touching samples the different types of fur was super interesting. I had used Bank of Montreal for my personal banking needs and was really amused to see an old tiny building with the bank’s name, indicating that it is one of the earlier banks in the city. Seeing old clothing and the structures of these homes and thinking about how people back then had to deal with the cold winter months, filled me with wonder.
There are other entertaining activities as well. There is an old train that visitors can hop on and have a tour of the entire area. There is a small theater that shows historical films, and there was even a photography shop where people can wear costumes and have a portrait taken looking like it’s from a hundred years ago.
I keep seeing digital posters for advertisements regarding events that take place when the park was closed for touring. The bus I take when commuting to work passes by Fox Drive that leads to Fort Edmonton Park. I ought to check out the annual Halloween event at some point, it looks really interesting. There are opportunities to have brunch or dinners at the Hotel’s restaurant all year long, and the food is pretty good!
In my opinion, every newcomer to the City, both the born-and-raised Canadians who came from other provinces, and those who landed from other countries and had made Edmonton their home, should have the opportunity to visit this location, ideally within their first few years. Understanding the context of what the city has looked like many years ago can help those who are new here, appreciated how things are today.
While I feel like a broken record when I say “welp, that was NOT included in my ‘Welcome to Canada’ booklet”, it’s very true. There isn’t a lot of information about this city when I moved here. Fort Edmonton Park was a helpful way for me to learn and witness this. We don’t have a City Museum in a conventional sense, but I would say this is the closest one.
I was fortunate enough to squeeze in one elective class during university which was Introduction to Native Studies, and in 2017 because it was Canada 150 I learned a little bit more about Canada as a whole. I also took another elective class during university which was an advances English Literature class that discussed Canadian authors that describe the experiences of Asian people from 1900 onwards.
Now that I am learning more about the history of Indigenous peoples in Edmonton and realizing that Fort Edmonton Park has gaps, I’m relieved that the renovation will include an additional exhibit specific to this.
Booking Venues for Special Events
I didn’t know until I was a bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding, that Fort Edmonton Park is a lovely venue for a wedding and it is a well-known one, particularly in the summer. We had one of the old small churches in the Park as the location for the wedding ceremony, and then we had on of the second-floor halls of an old store as the location for the reception. While the bridal party was walking around the area for our wedding photos, we learned that there were two other weddings happening on the same day. We ran into another bridal party having their group photos, and we walked by the other wedding reception’s venue, hearing the lively dance music through the air.
I also thought that Hotel Selkirk is just a historical building that visitors at the park can tour, but as it turned out, people can rent the rooms, like a regular hotel! I learned about this during the wedding as well, as my friend rented two rooms as a waiting area for the bride and the groom’s wedding entourage. That was a lovely way to experience the city and this location, integrating historical structures with modern-day activities.
The website for the park is www.fortedmontonpark.ca/ . I look forward to the park opening again for tours, and experiencing it again with a slightly different perspective now that I’ve lived in Edmonton for a little bit longer.