"Living History Museum!"
Known as the largest living history museum by area in Canada, Fort Edmonton Park is situated on 64 hectares (158 acres) of wooded city green space along Edmonton's River Valley situated on the North Saskatchewan River. "The Fort" as it's known affectionately by locals began as a Canada Centennial construction project in 1967 to rebuild and implement the old aesthetics of Fort Edmonton and quickly evolved into a larger, more permanent presence within culture and recreation in the city. With help from external fundraisers and support of several historical foundations the historic park include four different chronologically themed sections partitioned as streets including the 1846 Hudson's Bay Fort, 1885 Street, 1905 Street as well as the more modern 1920 Street. These themed streets illustrate the colourful and vibrant changes that permeated through each generation of homesteaders/pioneers that happened to help build Edmonton into the City it is today!
Ranked as one of the "Top 5" attractions to see in Edmonton by Trip Advisor, there's tons of things to do for everyone of all ages, ethnicities, accessibilities as well as interests.
Fort Edmonton isn't like any history museum you've been to before. Each street is filled with time appropriate and accurate interpreters/actors as well as the sights and sounds of that period too. The video above gives you a sneak peek into why the Fort is Canada's largest "living history museum."
1846 - "Fur Trade Era"
Pop: Less than 150
The Fur Trade era represents the period of Edmonton's existence as an outpost for trade and sale of Beaver pelts and other animal goods and services. To add to the accuracy of the period a First Nations encampment resides outside the Fort indicating the close reliance between European settlers and the local tribes in the area.
1885 - "Settlement Era"
Pop: Between 148-263
The Settlement era formulates the story of the first permanent European settlements in what is now known as Edmonton. This period is recognized by a large immigration of European citizens that moved to Western Canada to farm its land.
1905 - "Municipal Era"
Pop: Between 8,350-14,088
The Municipal era illustrates life in Edmonton as an established city and the economic boom at the time. This street highlights such major events of this period such as the opening of the University of Alberta as well as the housing crisis that was created through this boom, known as "Tent City"
1920 - "Metropolitan Era"
The Metropolitan era focuses on Edmonton post-WWI and the growth of large business chains and commerce within the city limits. At this time modern amenities were being introduced such as airplane service, hotels, midways & entertainment as well as the first ever Mosque built in Canada!
Diversity & Cultural Memory Issues
As like all monuments erected to remember important places or peoples in history Fort Edmonton isn't free from critique but surprisingly respond well to critical feedback even for an organization rooted in bureaucratic municipal policies. Recently in 2010 there was the idea of adding an "interactive, Disney-like" atmosphere to entice visitors and this was quickly shot down due to threats of inauthenticity, misrepresentation and the possible imposition of American narratives over a purely Canadian historic site. It was noted in an Edmonton Journal article about this issue that high tech museum gadgets have a short shelf life, high maintenance costs as well as take away from pure historic retelling. There have been comment also that the Fort in the past wasn't retelling the racist stories of the treatment of Aboriginals, Chinese, Blacks, etc but the Fort has responded and realized this complaints by actively trying to implement purposeful hiring of those interpreters to tell the story of those affected by this prejudice, albeit slowly.
Fort Edmonton primarily tells a euro-centric (as does most Western history) story of European colonizers and homesteaders but at the same time has made a conscious and perceivable effort to be extremely inclusive of other cultures, religions (such as the Al-Rashid Mosque depicted prior) and histories and actively promotes local aboriginal heritage during Aboriginal Awareness week events as well as purposefully hires aboriginal employees to serve in active roles within their community as seen in the video above. In the process of animating the history surrounding Fort Edmonton the organization has made sure to be as accurate as possible in recreating history and not just the positive and happy memories but those that are more critical as well.
Besides racial issues there were notices of a lack of retelling about the impoverished and homeless and Fort Edmonton has responded by noticing and including information on the various incarnations of Tent Cities within Edmonton's boundaries, although this is a great starting point on homelessness (due to rapid expansion during an economic boom), the primary focus on middle-income and upper-income lifestyles by the interpreters tends to paint Edmonton purely as a rich and prosperous community without the issues of a city with lower-income individuals.
Areas for improving Fort Edmonton would be in two categories: prejudice & class issues which could further be broken down into points to focus on.
- Lower income populations
- Transient population in Edmonton's history
- Oil-sand discovery and the effect on the environment (Listen to Historica post below)
Although Fort Edmonton is stuck back in time they know their visitors aren't and thus provide many ways through social media to connect, interact and see what's going on and new!