Heritage Park Historical Village
By Kathleen Renne

Not Your Typical Museum

Established as a children’s pioneer theme park back in 1964, Calgary’s Heritage Park Historical Village has since grown to become Canada's largest living-history museum. Open from the May long weekend to Thanksgiving in October,  it features 180 exhibits exploring the settlement of Western Canada from the 1860s to the 1950s. The park is divided into several areas including an antique midway; a fur-trading fort and First Nations encampment; a pre-railway settlement; a 1910 railway town; and Gasoline Alley, which houses thousands of items related to automobile history. "Heritage Park is not a typical museum where you just come and look at things. We want you to taste it, experience it, smell it, touch it,” explains communications specialist Barb Munro, adding that on-site costumed interpreters help history come alive.

Heritage Park is also home to the city’s only boat cruise. Circumnavigating Glenmore Reservoir on an hourly basis, the S.S. Moyie is a replica of a late 19th century paddlewheeler.  A vintage steam train, one of Heritage Park's most iconic attractions, also chugs around the park's perimeter moving visitors from one end to the other.

What’s more, Heritage Park offers unique shopping opportunities. Heritage Town Square is located outside the admission gates and features shops carrying goods from vintage toys and antiques to Canadian-made souvenirs.

Heritage Park is not a typical museum where you just come and look at things. We want you to taste it, experience it, smell it, touch it. - Barb Munro, Heritage Park communications specialist
Heritage Park Historical Village features Gasoline Alley.
The park's Gasoline Alley museum celebrates automotive tradition and nostalgia.

Living History Lessons

In keeping with its emphasis on education, Heritage Park's historical interpreters play out the dramas of pioneer-era daily life throughout its myriad  buildings. These range from an early 20th century snooker parlour to an 1888 schoolhouse. The park also offers a number of adult workshops including brewing classes; cooking workshops with historical themes like Depression-era dining; canning workshops; spinning workshops and a back-to-the-barn weekend.

Heritage Park Historical Village is populated by costumed historical interpreters.
Heritage Park Historical Village is populated by costumed historical interpreters.

Historical Events and Ghostly Tales

Perhaps it goes without saying that on premises bearing so much history, stories of ghostly encounters are many. The Prince House, the Canmore Opera House, Shepard Station and Sandstone House are among the structures said to be visited by phantasmal creatures. “There are lots of mischievous little ghosts around Heritage Park,” Barb confirms. Adults can become acquainted with these spectral stories at the Heritage Park Ghosts and Gourmet event, held on Halloween.

This is just one of many seasonal events the park hosts year-round. These include the popular Once Upon a Christmas; May's annual Festival of Quilts, which is Western Canada’s largest outdoor quilt show; and the yearly September Shindig, a park fundraiser that includes a rodeo. The first two weekends of May also see Heritage Park transformed into the island of Sodor as Thomas the Tank Engine makes an appearance. “Day Out with Thomas is super popular with the five-and-under crowd,” says Barb.

Heritage Park also offers two concert series. Noteworthy Nights, held during the winter and spring seasons, includes dinner and a musical performance, while the free Music in the Plaza series runs Wednesday evenings throughout July and August.

Heritage Park Historical Village
The park's busy antique midway features several wild rides.

Food, Food, Food!

We’re big on food here,” says Barb, adding that on-site vittles can range from a hot dog on the midway to filet mignon at Selkirk Grille, the park's popular upscale eatery, which is open for lunch and dinner. “We call it casually elegant Canadian cuisine,” says Barb, describing its menu. Of note, park admission is not required to dine at Selkirk.

Also notable, a 1920s dining car has been added to the park's steam locomotive. Every Tuesday, from June through August, patrons can pre-book a spot on the car and dine as the train circles the park. “It’s a very unique experience. You can't find anything else like it in the city,” says Barb.

Heritage Park Historical Village features many historical buildings.
The park features many historical buildings, some of which are rumoured to be haunted.
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