Bill-Smyth-Fort-Edmonton-Park

History Well Told: Bill Smyth

1885 Street, Share your Story

In this, Fort Edmonton Park’s 40th anniversary, we find ourselves reflective. Join us for our History Well Told series and meet some dear departed interpreters of the past.

I remember Bill Smyth.

I remember fondly how his eyes would crinkle when he smiled, which he invariably did while talking about 1885 Street’s Methodist Church and Raymer’s Jewellery, or while quietly disclaiming his name with an added “Not the Mayor.”

I wasn’t churched growing up, but I valued the sense of community I found when participating in the Bill-led Hymn Sing re-enactments. He would play the organ while another interpreter would lead us in lovely songs like Nearer My God to Thee and Abide with Me. I think Bill relished giving his pumping feet a rest from the organ when Mountie John would take his place for the closing rendition of God Save the Queen.

I occasionally interpreted with Bill in the Ottewell Homestead too, where he would enjoy talking to visitors about farming and Marquis wheat and about Fanny and her Métis midwife showing her how to set up a hammock above the bed for the baby, Cree-style. He liked imparting her concern about a stove fire and how the children might escape in such an event, a humanizing story that immediately made visitors empathize with the pioneer woman.

Speaking of Ottewell House, I am still in awe of Bill’s firemaking ability. There was no one who could light the stove faster and better than he, and the crinkle-eyed smile returned as he stuffed a firebox with an improbable arrangement of cordwood, kindling and a little bit of paper and then nonchalantly dropped in a match as epilogue.

He passed away in 2006 but I still think of him every time I sing an old hymn.

 

Do you remember Bill? Share your stories!