Circle: Teepees are erected with a base “tripod” of three poles tied together. The other poles are laid in place in a circular fashion before another rope walked around them. The canvas is attached to the tops of the tops of the last two poles and is dragged up – these form the smoke flap. The poles are heavier and more unwieldy then they look.
“Ceiling shot! Ok, I do this thing where I take pictures of ceilings. Teepees are no exception.”
Tripod: Oh, they finally made a new tripod! The old one was very smoke stained and did not look nearly so nice as this one. They are incredibly useful for cooking over the fire – hanging pots as you see here – and for drying and smoking meat. I have fond memories of stews and bannock made over this particular fire pit.
Rowand’s Folly: That (reconstructed) building, known as the Big House (for obvious reasons) is architecturally quite interesting. With the pillars it was meant to resemble the style of plantation homes in the Southern United States, but was of course built in the middle of the North West by labourers who were used to making rough buildings and walls, not fancy houses. John Rowand was considered foolish for making such a large building (for many years the largest man-made structure in the West, at four stories tall), hence the nickname for the structure: Rowand’s Folly.
“The Fort! This is arguably the part of the park you aim to reach when you first step past the entrance. All the other streets are a spectacular lead up, but the Fort is the prize at the end of that unpaved dirt non-brick road.”
Barrels of Many Things Which Incidentally Include Rum. Rum rations were actually very small at Fort Edmonton, historically. The rest of these barrels would contain more useful and profitable goods like flour, rice, and even tea and coffee. The barrels would be recycled and used to ship things like salted bison tongue back East: a delicacy. Rum was once sold at forts like this one when the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was in competition with the North West Company (anything to get customers!) but after the two rivals consolidated in 1821, there was no need to sell rum, which was problematic in many ways, though it was occasionally given out in small amounts during trading ceremonies. In fact, the HBC was almost dry – aside from a few stores for the officers and for the labourers at Christmas and New Years – for generations until after the HBC moved into retail in the 1880s and started selling them in stores to Euro-Canadians.
“Why is the rum gone!? Oh there it is.“
Watching the Courtyard in the Chief Factor’s Shoes: This photograph looks a bit off to me because for many years a wooden sundial stood right at the base of the steps. It was popular with visitors, but very little evidence remains of it aside from the lack of grass where it once stood. It was taken down because there was never any evidence that Fort Edmonton would have had, or needed, a sundial. These men and women worked as long as they could while there was still good lighting, until the work was done. There was no such thing as a 9 to 5 workday at nineteenth century fur trading posts.
Incidentally, celebrating “Dominion Day” in the 1846 era is always difficult because “Dominion Day” of course celebrates Canadian Confederation… in 1867. Most of the time there is simply additional programming which discusses the diversity of people who worked in fur trading posts like Fort Edmonton.
“Case of the missing sundial. Maybe I’m just losing my mind but I distinctly remember there being a sundial here.”
Music Is In The Air: These two gentlemen are hired musicians who come on special event days to add atmosphere. The gentleman on the right I know fairly well and is a regular, though he occasionally slips and plays slightly anachronistic music like the “Log Driver’s Waltz” (from the 1970s), but is generally a wonderful musician and human being. The gentleman on the left I have never encountered before – and why is he wearing an anachronistic eighteenth century tricorn hat? Retro even for the 1840s!
“Music in the Fort! The music from these two really livened up the surrounding Fort courtyard. They drew quite the crowd too! Again, just another one of those seemingly small things at the park that make it so much more alive and interactive. And fun. This whole place is just good old fashioned fun.”
Barrel Barrier: Lines of barrels act as more subtle barriers against visitor entry then the ropes which are quite common at the park. It allows visitors to see in, but not touch, potentially dangerous or delicate artifacts. In this case, there is a working fireplace where cooking is often done, and the interpreters would not want visitors wandering in to perhaps be burned by the fire or unhygienically touch the food being prepared.
If the photographer had turned to the left a little, there would have been a few small barrels that were labelled “tongues”, for salted bison tongues.
“Aromatherapy. Ok, I don’t know if I’m the only one who does this, but the way a place smells totally adds to the overall atmosphere of a place and its believability as ‘old’. This place smells old and antique. Which again, really contributes to how I perceive this manor as a centuries old attraction.”
The Meat Chapel: At the end of the day, it’s the job of the costumed interpreters to close and lock up the buildings. In the fort, that means putting the rawhide windows back in the window frames, closing the shutters and all of the doors, and locking the Trade Store, Big House and finally the back and front gates. In this corner you can see the chapel (on the right) and the meat house (centre). Colloquially, we’d always call out “I’ll get the meat chapel!” if we were indicating that we’d close up this corner. (This is not a historically accurate term, of course, and is very irreverent.)
Firewood Corner: No firewood is in evidence, but this courtyard is often full of chopped wood. Historically, HBC forts were often moved when the surrounding forest was entirely exhausted of firewood. Fort Edmonton Park represents the fifth and final fort.
Those towers – the bastions – are off limits to visitors and are sometimes used to keep program materials out of sight. One of them had a freezer that was used to store donated skins and hides until they could be used in programming by interpreters, who have tanned a lot of fur over the years. Once, they were storing a bison hide for the winter, to be tanned during the summer season, but apparently the freezer got unplugged at some point and by the time they came for it in the height of summer, it had been, uh, fermenting for quite some time. Apparently the person who came in to get the hide and had opened the freezer door had to run out lest they faint from the miasma. The whole thing was tossed, obviously, and that particular bastion still smelled slightly unpleasant when I worked there, a few years later.
Back Road Through the Back Woods: Many visitors don’t that there is a lovely nature trail that runs parallel to 1885 street and ends at Egge’s Barn. There’s also a large wooden cross where the trail begins at the Fort which is meant to represent the one erected by the missionary Robert Rundle. It was actually blessed by Pope John-Paul II in the 1980s. We don’t actually know where the cross would have actually stood in relation to the fort, as the only visual representations of it that we have were painted by Paul Kane, who tended to put it in a different place each time according to what, aesthetically, looked the best to him.
“The Lost Mom. My mom got super lost here once looking for “that damned train” and walked around the nature path for an hour in the searing heat after walking the entire park to the Fort. So, whichever way this path is going, the train is the other direction! Although, you can totally hear the train so I’m not really sure what she was thinking.”
Canada’s Spine: The railway drew Western Canada together with the rest of the country East of Winnipeg. Some say that it was the only reason that it was possible for Canada to exist in its current configuration today. This particular train was refurbished in the mid-2000s, to be even more historically accurate, when it served as a set for all of the train robbery scenes in the movie “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” with Brad Pitt. Several scenes in this film were also shot on 1885 street, most notably that one where Jesse James was sneaking out of town in the mist. Many interpreters who worked at the park at the time were extras in that film. It was before my time, though.
“Childhood Memory. This train will never not be fun to take a ride on. As kids, we would literally wait the entire day just to get the ride this train back to the entrance.”
The Star of the Park: The steam train is featured in all of the park’s advertising, and is often the first thing people notice and look for when they walk into the park. It takes you back in time from your twenty-first century life all the way past 1920 to 1846 (although the railroad, of course, didn’t really reach Edmonton until nearly fifty years later). If the train shuts down for whatever reason, even if it’s just minor repairs for a day, you can bet there will be visitor complaints. Some apparently only come to ride on the train and demand their money back if they don’t get their train ride. It is a beautiful machine, to be sure, but I like to think that there are many other attractions at the park.
Johnny J. Jones’ Midway: Ah, memories! My first posting at the park, as a Game and Ride Attendant. I have fond memories of talking peoples’ ears off about the history of the carousel (and this carousel in particular), of freak shows, of Ferris wheels, and of the myriad of ways that these games can be gaffed (fixed). The experience also made me even less likely to ever give my money to a game at any modern fairground, because I can name at least six simple ways off the top of my head to make the bowling pin toss impossible to win, even without the use of weights.
“The End! I definitely hope this has encouraged anyone who can to visit Fort Edmonton Park! This is a place I visit often and means a lot to me as it contains so many memories from my early childhood on. I would also like to say a huge thanks to Lauren who’s insight into this place and its surrounding history has been highly informative and practically invaluable, especially considering my contributing comments were largely consistent of my ‘feels’.”
I would like to add that it was an absolute pleasure to be able to revisit Fort Edmonton Park from my lowly little indoor office in Ottawa, particularly through such wonderfully composed photographs. I am now homesick for the good old Fort! Perhaps you’ll see me there for Christmas Reflections…
Other Parts in this Series
- Part I: 1920s Street (Or here on Kirsten’s blog)
- Part II: 1905 Street (Or here on Kirsten’s blog)
- Part III: 1885 Street (Or here on Kirsten’s blog)
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?