My name is Lauren Markewicz, but in years past, when I worked at Fort Edmonton Park as a costumed historical interpreter, I was also known as Nancy Harriott (when working in the reproduction of the 1846 Fort) or Nancy Sparrow (when working on 1920s Street). Fort Edmonton Park portrays four distinct time periods of Edmonton’s history: 1846 (fur trade era), 1885 (early European settlement), 1905 (industrial era: post-railway but pre-war), and 1920s (roughly post-First World War to the 1930s). It is a park full of original buildings and reconstructions of buildings and sites that once existed in the Edmonton area. The park is animated by costumed historical interpreters who interpret past events, activities, and personages to visitors. As an interpreter, it was my job to try to bring Edmonton’s past to life, so to speak.
The following photographs were taken last summer by Kirsten Seiersen; this post appears in near duplicate on her blog, which you can find here. I look upon these images with nostalgia, as they were taken in the first season after my four years at Fort Edmonton were over. I was doing an internship at Library and Archives Canada in Gatineau, Quebec, bound to my desk in a cubicle instead of being paid to bake Saskatoon berry pies, knit socks, drive historical vehicles, and talk to people about history all day. I suppose I had to get a “big kid” job that didn’t involve dress up at some point, though if the park were open year round I honestly would never consider seeking another profession. Alas, this lovely historical park nestled in Edmonton’s river valley is only open for four months of the year. But what a season!
I was invited by Kirsten to comment upon the photographs she took while at Fort Edmonton on Dominion Day – that’s Canada Day, July 1st, to the rest of you – to get two alternate but at times complementary descriptions. My comments appear alongside hers. In my version of the post, her writing will appear in quotation marks and will be italicized. These posts will also be divided roughly according to era, creating a four part series. Allons-y!
“Going to Fort Edmonton Park really is like stepping into the Tardis and popping back out in a different era. I’ve been to the park plenty of times as a kid but the great thing about it is that each time you visit you notice something that you didn’t before. The pictures in this post were taken the last time I went to the Park on Canada Day (July 1st); although at the Park it’s still referred to as ‘Dominion Day’ due to the fact that most modern area in the Park dates back to the 1920’s when Canada was still under more direct British rule. I would also like to note that I think the interpreters at Fort Edmonton Park are superb. They really are the root of what turns the park into an interactive experience rather than just another open museum. It’s not that they simply dress up according to what time they supposed to be from and recite a couple historical tidbits here and there; they really act the part, stay in character, and engage visitors by sharing the current events of their time. I also happen to know an ex-interpreter and history major who ever so kindly agreed to coauthor this post with me.”
(For ease of reference for those who have never visited the park, you can find a PDF map of the site here! We begin at the park entrance, on the Eastern side of the map, and work our way Westward. Isn’t that just the way?)
Drive to Work – All the Way to Work: The 1906 Orient, seen on the left hand side of the frame, parked in the Motordrome’s office, is the oldest of the many functioning vehicles at Fort Edmonton Park. Made by a bicycle manufacturer, it is fairly light weight. No seatbelts of course, and like other comparable vehicles (like the one I talk about in this blog post or other vehicles) it does not have a conventional steering wheel but a rudder (the red bar). It is owned and operated by a volunteer who comes by a few times a season to take it out. Very few have had the opportunity to ride in this vehicle.
“Canadian Tire: The Prototype. This is one of the first buildings I came across upon entry to the park – which for whatever reason makes it one of the most exciting.”
My Own Personal Batmobile: The 1928 Ford Model A was the vehicle I drove the most when I worked on 1920s street. The successor to the famous Ford Model T, this one has an electric starter (though there is always a spot for the backup crank – that metal circle beneath the licence plate) and more straightforward and smooth controls. (For a more detailed look at the interior and its functions, check out my previous post). Compared with some of the “nicer” vehicles, like the 1929 REO, which is enormous, the Model A can turn on a figurative dime. Ford knew what he was doing.
“The Fort’s resident Impala. Ok so it’s not an impala but that’s kind of what it reminds me of since you can constantly see it driving around the park. Anyone who has visited the park will instantly recognize this car; whether from seeing it parked in front of the Canadian Tire prototype or being driven around the park by an interpreter. Yes, it still runs! I actually really appreciate this little touch because it really lends to the illusion that you’ve stepped into the 1920’s and not just some museum like ghost town. This is one of the reasons I love Fort Edmonton; it’s so interactive!”
The Horse House: The top story, under the roof, is rounded in design – apparently to add extra storage space for hay. This building on 1920s Street houses many of the large draft horses.
“The barn that totally looks like my old neighbour’s house. On a more serious note, this is part of larger set consisting of a farmhouse and a machinery shed filled to the rafters with antique farm equipment. I love coming to this particular area with my Grandpa as he remembers so much of the old farming machinery and techniques first hand.”
Mind the Threat of Tetanus: Several of the sheds on site have a variety of rusted, obsolete farm equipment: donated, but little used. A few combines are taken out each year, but it’s a struggle each time to get them in good working order for the Harvest Festival.
“I think a trip to John Deere is in order… This is part of the collection of old farm equipment that you can find at the park right next to the barn from above.”
Don’t Hide in Here: It’s an interpretive space, but unless visitors know you’re there, they don’t always approach as it’s off the main drag of 1920s Street near the hangar. This shed was put up when they started construction on the Capitol Theatre, part of several “wink and a nod” references to the construction going on during that time of construction and disruption.
“Mom’s Office! Poole Construction Limited has since been shortened to PCL and their logo can be seen all over modern day Edmonton on various construction sites. Also, my mom works at their Edmonton head office so I just had to snap a photo of it to show her what her office could’ve looked like ;) “
Blockbuster: The Northern Light: an Edmonton Journey is a short, 15 minute movie filmed at the park to give a rough overview of Edmonton’s history. It plays during regular opening hours but also for rentals during the off season so they can get a sense of what the park is like at it’s full glory. I am in it for about three full seconds, in two still shots, in the fur trade sequence. I am one of a small group of women clustered in front of the big house during one of the montage scenes, and, for one and a half glorious seconds, it is me in the centre of the screen scraping a bison hide. Of course, it was filmed in the middle of winter, so the hide was actually frozen solid, but you can’t tell that from the shot!
“Shade! Honestly, I only went into the theatre because it was over 30 degrees out and I wanted to get out of the sun for a bit. I didn’t realize they actually played anything in there but the film short inside was definitely worthwhile.”
The 1920s: Birth of Mass Advertising? These advertising signs were originally put up to hide the construction from the Capitol Theatre, but they added so much to the look of the business end of the street that they were kept… and now hide the view of the modern vehicles from the hotel parking lot.
Sleepover: The Hotel Selkirk is a fully functioning hotel on site and contains modern amenities with a vintage style. (As far as I am aware there are no televisions in the rooms, but there is running water in the bathrooms, for instance, not to mention the 1920s décor.) It also has a restaurant and bar with a liquor license. The building isn’t original, but the bar area is a reconstruction of the longest standing bar in the world. However, it’s at least 10 metres shorter than it should be because they put in modern washrooms at the back, and people complained about having to stand so they put in chairs, so two of the qualifiers – “longest” and “standing” – no longer apply in the describing the place. The costumed staff of the park gather there once a week for a drink or two after work (and out of costume). Try their deep fried perogies.
Other Parts in this Series
- Part II: 1905 Street
- Part III: 1885 Street
- Part IV: the 1846 Fort and the Return to 2013
Related Posts On Costumed Historical Interpretation and Fort Edmonton:
- Challenging Visitors and Challenging Visitor Expectations
- Immersive Visitor Involvement at Living History Museums, or, Blacksmithing and You!
- Get Your Historical Driver’s Licence Part I: Motorcars At Fort Edmonton
- Beyond the Bob: 1920s Hairstyles for the Rapunzels Among Us
- First Person Versus Third Person Interpretation
- Where is Fort Edmonton?