Living-history visit, and observations

Today I visited Fort Edmonton Park, a living-history museum with areas re-creating four eras in local history: the Hudson’s Bay Company trading fort of 1846, the pre-railway settlement of 1885, the boomtown of 1905, and the more modern city of 1920. I really enjoy pioneer villages and other living-history sites, and this is a good one. (One website claims it as the largest in Canada, but I think Fortress of Louisbourg is probably still bigger.)

On this hot sunny day, I didn’t try to see all of it in my first visit. I didn’t go to the Fort at all, and I just visited a few buildings on the 1920 street.  I focused on the two eras in between.

Among the things that I noticed or thought about while I was there were the following.

  • Almost all the white settlers and residents commemorated by name were born in Ontario, not in England or elsewhere in the British Isles or Europe.
  • So all this settlement, railway access, and development happened generations later than it did in the places I’d lived before this.
  • It’s neat to see historical re-creation of relatively recent eras. My dad was born in the 1920s and lived in a city, and my mum was born in the 1930s but spent much of her childhood in a poor rural northwestern Ontario settlement, so much of what’s shown would be familiar to them.
  • Heck, some of it is familiar to me, because of how we lived at Kareen, the cottage which was built in the early 20th century and never changed much after that. I remember the costumed interpreter at some site in Nova Scotia talking down to 12yo Ann asking if she could guess what something was. “Oh, that’s just a washboard and washtub. My dad uses one of those every week,” she said. I feel really lucky that we got to use those artifacts, not as a museum stunt but as our ordinary life – the toaster that you had to watch and flip by hand, the manual water pump, the Quebec heater – just as my mum got to experience the one-room-schoolhouse for a few months when they had nowhere to live in the city.
  • But I bet that in my lifetime, there will be museum representations of how people lived in suburbs in the 1960s. In the Museum of Science and Tech. in Ottawa there is/was a little display of “modern” kitchens of the 1950s and 1960s.
  • I wonder if I should suggest to the siblings to keep an eye out for potential museum donations in the cottage shed.
  • It’s also interesting to look at household artifacts during this time of handing down china and furniture from our parents and grandparents. In one cozy single-room 1885 house, the costumed interpreter pointed to what I’d call a china cabinet or hutch, saying that the dishes in there weren’t the residents’ “good china”, but would be all their dishes, used for every meal. Our grandparents and parents had china cabinets of good china, teacups, fine glassware, and curious, but only used it on special occasions, and now we’re inheriting it all, probably with even less inclination to use it. Our bone china cups and saucers look very like those on display in the 1905 bazaar. I want to try to use everything I inherited, and I wish I knew more of its provenance.
  • Two of my favourite things on most pioneer-village/re-enactment visits are watching blacksmiths at work and watching weaving, from small handlooms to larger mechanised weaving machinery like at Upper Canada Village. Oddly, I didn’t see either today – I saw a smithy, but not operational, and I didn’t see any weaving at all. Many of the female interpreters were carding wool or knitting with single-ply handspun wool. One young interpreter pointed out the spinning wheel but explained that she was just learning. The gift shop did have some ceintures fléchées for sale.

Anyway, I had a good day, and I’m definitely going to return.  I rode the steam train, the streetcar, and the carousel, but not the ferris wheel.  I ate a cinnamon bun from the 1905 bakery, and a meal at Hotel Selkirk.

Getting there by transit takes a little planning, since the maps application on my iphone doesn’t include the special shuttle that runs on summer Sundays.  The shuttle runs once an hour to/from South Campus station.  You can also get off the #4 bus and walk in from Fox Drive, about 2 km.  (Don’t pay attention to the signs about a shuttle taking pedestrians across a bridge with closed sidewalks; that’s not relevant.)

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