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Report 1739: Six Weeks in Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC where English Tourists Don’t Get to....

By Eleanor from England, Summer 2009

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Page 2 of 9: Fort Edmonton and into Saskatchewan for the Western Development Museums

photo by Eleanor

Commanding Officer's House (1876)

We spent a full day at Fort Edmonton, which has a reconstruction of the 1870s Hudson Bay Trading Fort, the 1880s settlement, 1910 settlement and 1920 settlement. There is chance to ride on a steam loco and tram. Here the interpreters didn’t stick rigidly to their role and you could broaden the conversation to cover more recent history.

We were looking around one of the 1880s houses when a tourist came in and asked the costumed interpreter if she lived in the house all the year. We then realised they were talking at cross purposes as the interpreter was ‘in role’ and the questioner thought the interpreter lived permanently in the house all through the year. The interpreter was definitely stringing him along. He was very concerned there was no TV and asked how she managed without a TV set. Quick as a flash came the reply “what is a TV set?” The guy was at a loss for words at that point and we heard him go out telling his family ‘she lives here all year.... can you imagine it in winter... how do they manage without TV?’

From Fort Saskatchewan we headed into Saskatchewan. My mother grew up on the Saskatchewan Prairies during the 1920s, so one reason for this trip was to visit relatives, discover my roots and find out what life was like for the early settlers. This meant we wanted to visit many places not on the typical tourist beat. From Edmonton we swung up through Meadow Lake Provincial Park and back to The Battlefords, stopping in North Battleford, a pleasant Prairie town with some beautiful old wooden buildings. Battleford is smaller and the older settlement. We also had two nights on a Homestead south of Battleford before moving on to Saskatoon and Moose Jaw.

We wanted to visit the Western Development Museums in North Battleford, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw as we thought this would give a good understanding of the history and settlement of the area as well as the way of life. We had thought about going to Yorkton but in the end ruled this out because of distance and time. Having visited the other three museums we don’t regret our decision. Basically we were very disappointed by them and they didn’t come up to the standard of the Ukrainian Heritage Village near Edmonton, as it was out of season there were few staff around to ask questions. The buildings in North Battleford looked unkempt and unloved. The amount of information in each was variable. In Saskatoon the 1920s street is inside under artificial light and it felt like a film set. The new ‘Winning the Prairie Gamble’ exhibition was much better and we felt we learned something here. I had grown up with my mother’s stories of the hungry thirties and the dust storms but it was only when I saw the pictures and the diorama of the car up to its wheel hubs in sand that you begin to understand what it was like. We highly recommend the cafe at Saskatoon. Moose Jaw was possibly the best museum for exhibits. As in Royal Tyrell Museum the shops were disappointing selling crafty things or toys rather than books or items related to Saskatchewan history and settlement.

Fort Battleford National Historic Site was the complete opposite. Beautifully maintained with a good shop and knowledgeable costumed interpreters. This was an enjoyable and rewarding half day.

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