Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fort Edmonton Park (#1) - Alberta Canada

As I previously mentioned, Canada does a great job in structuring and presenting its history through its historical parks.  This blog is the first of three which will take you on our tour of Edmonton Alberta’s Fort Edmonton Park. 

One of Edmonton's top attractions, the Park represents four distinct time periods: 1) Explore Edmonton's development from a 1846 fur trading post in the vast Northwest; 2) Then the settlement  Era…an 1885 street; 3) Next the municipal era…a 1905 street, and; 4) Finally, the metropolitan Era…a 1920 street and midway. 

The park features over 75 structures many of which are original.  Costumed interpreters operate everything on site and they ‘live’ in their particular era.  Trip Advisor’s contributors rank Fort Edmonton #3 among area attractions.  Only the Edmonton Symphony and its home venue rank higher.  At the time I was writing this blog, Trip Advisor had recorded 288 Excellent or Very Good reviews vs. only 11 Poor or Terrible reviews. (I think that a 26:1 positive ratio is very positive!) To view Trip Advisor’s reviews regarding Fort Edmonton, just go to

Free steam engine train rides take you from the park’s entrance to the 1846 Fort and Trading Post.  We rode the train twice…as our memory stick for our camera ran out shortly after we arrived…and we had to leave the park to purchase a replacement.

The Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific was named after the first railway built in Edmonton.  The EY and P Railroad operated passenger trains until 1926 and finally ceased all operations in 1951.  The Fort Edmonton Park ride is 2.5 miles long.  The train arrived in Edmonton in 1977 and began service in 1978.

Locomotive 107 is a prairie type (2-6-2) locomotive built in 1919 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For fifty years it worked at the Industrial Lumber Company in Oakdale Louisiana until it was abandoned.  The locomotive was completely rebuilt.  Originally designed to burn wood it now burns oil to heat the boilers.  For much more on prairie type locomotives go to

Locomotive #107 and the coach cars received a new paint job and lettering in fall of 2005.  The train was then used in the Brad Pitt movie, ‘The Assassination of Jesse James’, some of which was filmed at Fort Edmonton Park.

This is a view of the 1920’s Midway as viewed from the train.  A recreation of this 1920's midway opened in 2006 at the end of 1920 Street, near the park's entrance.  Various games of skill may be found on the midway and a carousel featuring hand-carved horses is housed inside a permanent pavilion.  The Fort Edmonton Foundation recently expanded the Midway and Exhibition area to include an Exhibits Building and other rides such as the Ferris Wheel.

This is the first stop in your progressive tour of Fort Edmonton.  This is the Hudson's Bay Company fort, which represents the fur trade era.  This is not the original.  It was built using a 'scaled-down plan' diagram drawn by British Lieutenant Mervin Vavasour, who had visited the original fort in the mid-1840s.  Other accounts, such as the journals of the fort's denizens, or the artwork of Paul Kane, were used to verify and complete the structure and the buildings within. 

A small Cree encampment is just outside the fort's palisade.  It serves as a representation of the First Nations/Native Americans, whose trade in furs and provisions was vital to the fort's and the Hudson Bay Company’s operation.

For information regarding Paul Kane and his artwork, go to

This is a photo of the living quarters inside one of the buildings within the fort.  In the early days, residents of these trading posts were mostly men.  Living out on the western frontier of Canada meant isolation, danger and severe weather conditions. 

This imposing building was the residence of John Rowand and his family.  In its day, this massive structure was one of the largest houses in present-day western Canada.  The house has four levels, the lower one for servants, the second one for dining and business, the third for the family and guest rooms, and a garret or attic for storage.

Beginning in 1823, John Rowand was the ‘Chief Factor’ at Fort Edmonton.  As such, he was answerable only to the Governor or Hudson Bay Company’s Managing Committee in London England.  Rowand oversaw the moving of the fort from a floodplain to higher ground following floods in the 1820s.  On this new site, (now home to the Alberta Legislature Building), he had his massive house constructed in the fort's courtyard.  The house was known as "Rowand's Folly" for its extravagance… It is reputed to have been the first house to have glass windows in western Canada. 

This is the stable for the Trading Post’s horses.  They obviously don’t keep any horses inside the Hudson Bay Fort itself, but we liked its look with the rough wood plus the grass and small trees growing on the roof.

The trading post contains many structures and operations of interest other than the Rowand house.  Among others there is the trade store, Columbia house, the watchtower, meat store, Rundle house/chapel, clerk’s quarters, tradesmen’s quarters and a windmill.

This is one of the bedrooms in the family/guest quarters on the third floor of the Rowand house. 

John Rowand’s personal history is quite interesting. In 1810 Rowand suffered a broken leg from a riding accident.  He was rescued by Louise (Lisette) Umfreville, a Metis (mixed blood) woman who nursed him back to health.  Subsequently, John Rowand engaged Louise in a “country marriage”, and received a herd of horses as a dowry.  According to some stories, Rowand also adopted several of Louise's children by another man and they had at least five children of their own.  They lived together for more than 30 years but they didn’t seem to have felt any need for an actual marriage.  Rowand described Louise as "my old friend the mother of all my children" and remain connected with her until her death in 1849. 

For more about John Rowand, go to

This is one of the storerooms at the Hudson Bay Trading Post.  Everything had to be shipped in overland using trails and any navigable waterways.  The post or fort was positioned on one of the best means of transportation across Canada at the time…the North Saskatchewan River.  In the early years of John Rowand's administration, overland routes to northern posts such as Fort Assiniboine were established, and Fort Edmonton became a central hub of trade in western Canada.

This is the inside of the trading post itself...complete with a appropriately costumed docent.  Furs of all the different animals that were trading are on display as are the items sought by Native American/First Nations people as well as Metis and other trappers.  One might ask...just how big was the business in pelts and furs…?

At one time, the fur trade was one of the main economic ventures in North America, attracting competition among the French, British, Dutch, Spanish, and Russians. As part of the early history of the United States, capitalizing on this trade and removing the British stranglehold over it, was seen as a major economic objective.  Many Native American societies across the continent came to depend on the fur trade as their primary source of income.  

However, by the mid-1800's changing fashions in Europe brought about a collapse in fur prices and many Native communities were plunged into long-term poverty.  To gain a better appreciation of the size of this business, go to this site to view a list of the hundreds of Hudson Bay Trading Posts that existed at one time or another. (

In addition to the train and streetcar system, other forms of transportation are also available at Fort Edmonton Park.  This stagecoach looked terrific as it rolled along a dirt road on the other side of this garden plot.

Here’s another horse drawn conveyance for visitors.  Laurie got to see lots of horses in the park…and she loves horses!  The horse drawn modes of transportation do require a small fee and they are not included in the price of admission to the park.

This is the original building for the Edmonton Bulletin Newspaper which was built in 1878.  The Edmonton Bulletin was a newspaper in Edmonton, Alberta that was published from 1880 until January 20, 1951.  It was founded by a politician and future minister in the Canadian Government and by the city’s first telegraph operator.  It was the city’s undisputed leading newspaper until the Edmonton Journal was founded in 1903.

This is the interior of the Edmonton Bulletin Newspaper building.  I must admit that it brought back many memories for me.  My maternal grandfather had a rubber stamp and printing business, (Weed Rubber Stamps), in Jackson Michigan for many years.  My uncle John ran it for a time after my grandfather died.  I have memories of setting type for both my grandfather and my uncle…a tedious job indeed! Except as a novelty, rubber stamp manufacturing and typesetting are definitely jobs of the past…

The Ross Brothers Hardware Store is a reconstruction of a building originally built in 1884.  The main part of the store housed the store itself, while the rear contained a tinsmithing shop.  A small warehouse addition was added a bit later.  The store was opened by James “Charlie” Ross and his brother Frederick.  The two had traveled to Edmonton from Toronto via Winnipeg. 

The brothers both had a varied work history that included some experience in tinsmithing.  James worked as a firefighter and a carpenter after moving to Edmonton and eventually served four terms as an alderman.  Frederick was said to have been the more entrepreneurial of the two and he eventually became the president of their company.

In late 1888 or 89 the second floor of the original store was converted to a public hall, at which vaudeville shows, plays and balls were held.  The Ross Brothers Hardware building was eventually demolished in 1911.

I just love the detailed organization and presentation of the tools and fixtures shown in this photo.  Understand, I can barely tell a wrench from pliers…and tools themselves are foreign items to me…but I do like old shelves and drawers made out of wood and I appreciate a well-organized operation!

The Ross brothers sold their hardware business in 1912.  In addition to serving as an Alderman in Edmonton, James went on to become director of the Western Canadian Vinegar Company and Vice President of the Alberta Milling Company.

Two relatively small buildings comprise the ‘Secord Complex’.  They are both reconstructions of those built in 1887.  The building’s main operations revolved around the fur trade. The complex of buildings had a store in the front and a back warehouse used to store the furs.

Richard Secord was born in Brant, Ontario on July 19, 1860.  He came to Edmonton by way of Chicago and Winnipeg, arriving September 1, 1881.  Richard helped build the first public school in Edmonton and he taught school in town for 4 years before entering the business world.  He started his own fur-trading business in 1888, and sold it to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1890.

Ever want to work for the Hudson's Bay Company?  This fur press at the Secord Complex would have been used to press/compact a  5 foot tall stack of furs that would weigh in at around 90 lbs.  If you could carry two of these stacks you would qualify for the job with Hudson's Bay!  To watch a more primitive fur press in action, go to

This is a reconstruction of Lauder's Bake Shop and home.  It’s adjacent to a reconstruction of the Lauder’s Bakery.  The bakery was opened in 1885 and Lauder had a contract to provide bread to the Northwest Mounted Police in Fort Saskatchewan.  The original home was also built in 1885 with the lean-to style addition built to serve as the bake shop.

This is an interior photo of the Lauder home…with a mix of Victorian and Mission style furnishings.

The Lauder family has a long history in Edmonton.  Mount Griesbach (8,800 feet) was named after William Antrobus Griesbach.  He was 28 years old when he was elected mayor of Edmonton…still the youngest Edmonton Mayor ever elected.

What’s the connection with Lauder’s Bakery?  In January of 1906, William married Janet Scott McDonald Lauder, daughter of James Lauder, who had started Edmonton's first bakery.  He went on to become a Brigadier-General in WWI when he was just 39 years old.  After the war, William was promoted to Major-General.  Subsequently, he was elected as a Member of Parliament and in 1921, he was appointed to the Canadian Senate - a post he held until his death of a heart attack on January 21st, 1945. (Behind every good man is a good woman!)

This is Daly's drug store and Dr. Wilson’s office.  This is a reconstruction of the building originally built in 1882.  The original building housed Edmonton's first drugstore.  The doctor's office occupied the rear part of the building…  The building now serves as a gift shop where one can purchase old-fashioned hard candies, soaps, shaving mugs, wooden handled scrub brushes, pitcher and basin sets, and Watkins products.

Regarding Dr. Wilson…he studied medicine and moved to Edmonton in 1882.  He was appointed to official medical positions and for several years, owned the drugstore.  Dr. Wilson served as a consultant to First Nations/Native American reserves near Edmonton. He also became a director of many local corporations. He was elected to the Territorial council in 1885, and soon became its speaker. He maintained a medical practice in town for many years.  Dr. Wilson eventually ran for mayor and he was elected in 1885.

This is a photo inside Daly’s Drug Store/Pharmacy.  I’ve always loved the look of the old 1800's pharmacies.  Most of them have beautiful wood cabinets full of labeled bottles…lots to look at and imagine!

P.E. Daly was born in Neenah, Wisconsin in 1860.   His father was Canadian and he lived in Ontario for many years.  He came to Edmonton in 1886 and bought out Dr. Wilson’s drug business.  He continued the business until 1891 together.  Mr. Daly also established a private bank, he was chairman of the Board of Works of Edmonton and he was a member of the council of the Board of Trade.

One factor that I found interesting at Fort Edmonton Park was that many of the historic structures and reconstructions tie into the city’s history…and the area’s early ‘movers and shakers’.

I wanted to end this segment of our visit to Fort Edmonton Park on an upbeat and happy note… Apparently the park is a popular wedding venue.  This wedding party was celebrating and posing for photos on one of the buildings along the ‘1885 Street’.  We’re wishing them the very best!

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by and taking a first look at Fort Edmonton Park!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Love the lean-to building and the bakery. These people led a very hard life and you've written about it beautifully. I think I would enjoy this trip very much. In my youth, I wanted to be a pioneer just like my great-grandparents who came to the Arkansas Territory before the Civil War. After seeing the conditions and harsh life, just like any kid, I changed my mind, but never the less find the life and times fascinating.

  2. I enjoyed reading more about Fort Edmonton. I especially enjoyed reading more about the people --and the history.

    I especially enjoyed reading about John Rowand's life --with his 'common-law' wife---his friend and mother of his children... ha ha...

    I love steam locomotives... Have you ever visited the railroad at Cass, West VA. Awesome trip up the mountain!!!

    Merry Christmas.