5 historical gems: Edmonton’s most beloved museums

November 16, 2016

by Athena Raypold

Edmonton has the cure for any history lover’s itch: A multitude of museums (both traditional and living) to indulge your inner curiosity. There’s nothing quite like travelling through time to see how far we’ve come. Whether you’re interested in the daily lives of pioneers, the natural habitats of Alberta wildlife or the simple cuisine of days gone by, these historical gems will educate and delight. [Image credit: iStock.com/wwing]

5 historical gems: Edmonton’s most beloved museums

1. Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum

Tucked away in downtown Edmonton lies the historic McKay Avenue School, the Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum, and the oldest standing brick school in Edmonton. Before the legislature building was constructed, the first session of the Alberta Legislature was held in the third floor assembly, where many couples now marry today. Included on the site is Edmonton’s first public school, a small wooden house overlooking the river valley. The brick school itself is now a museum showcasing classrooms of the 1920s and 1950s, along with educational and city artifacts. Today, this unique little museum is a public museum and venue that hosts educational, curriculum based student programming, as well.

2. Fort Edmonton Park

A vast living museum, Fort Edmonton Park offers a variety of experiences for attendees (whether public visits or educational field trips). Divided into four eras, costumed actors play real-life people who lived in the area, offering visitors a unique peek into history. These actors are well educated on their respective eras and provide visitors with an enhanced experience in the park. The park’s distinctive sections include the following:  The Fur Trade Era (1846 Fort), The Settlement Era (1885 Street), the Municipal Era (1905 Street) and the Metropolitan Era (1920 Street and the Midway). Each era boasts authentic artifacts (either original or re-creations), as well as the opportunity to engage in relevant activities of the time: eating bannock, touching furs, riding the trolley, drinking fresh lemonade, making shortbread, washing clothes, playing carnival toss games or riding a 1920s carousel. The museum is full of original buildings and houses, as well as actual gardens and animals (pigs, horses, chickens). The most recent addition includes the 1920s, where a re-creation of the old Selkirk Hotel and Capitol Theatre offer the best that decade has to offer. The park hosts events year-round, including Spooktacular, Christmas Reflections, old movies and live theatre. The city is currently planning a $150 million addition to the park: The Indigenouse People’s Experience. Plus, it’s listed as one of the 10 best attractions in Edmonton!

3. Rutherford House

Another cornerstone in Edmonton’s historical community, Rutherford House is the historic home of Alberta’s first Premier, Alexander Rutherford. A heritage site and museum, Rutherford House provides visitors with an intimate peek into Edmonton’s past. Considered a cultural gem, visitors can explore the house and attend special events like Founder’s Day, Rutherford House Remembers, Robert Burns Celebrations and Halloween Haunt at Rutherford House. The museum also takes private bookings for special events and has been home to many Edmonton weddings.

4. John Walter Museum

Located in Kinsmen Park, just west of the Walterdale Bridge lie Edmonton entrepreneur John Walter’s three original homes. Nestled on the south bank of the river valley, visitors can peruse the museum, take part in activates and wander the myriad walking trails and playgrounds that surround the museum. Taking only donations for admission, the site offers both guided and self-guided tours complemented by costumed interpreters sharing stories of Edmonton’s hard-working pioneers. Each week, visitors can experience different historic activities like candle making, based on the museum’s seasonal theme.  In the summer, join them on select Tuesday nights for campfire cookery – a taste of local history.

5. Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village

As famous as Fort Edmonton Park, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is also an outdoor living museum, but one that tells the stories of Ukrainians that immigrated to Alberta between 1892 and the 1930s. Costumed interpreters recreate the lives of pioneers as they move through more than 30 restored buildings. A visit here is truly time travel, as you will tour schools, a grain elevator, a blacksmith shop and churches with a cultural flair and authentic Ukrainian food. Business Insider writer Jessica Festa called her visit a “major, major highlight of [her] trip” to Edmonton. She loved how the actors wouldn’t break character, how authentic the village is, and learning to make pierogies.

All in all, Edmonton’s history is beautifully told and curated by its museums which offer a little bit of the past for everyone: event venues, special activities or daily outings.

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