By Marla J. Daniels
Fourth stop: Fort Edmonton Park in the 1970s!
Fort Edmonton Park grew out of the vision and efforts of a group of early pioneers who wished to preserve the history of Edmonton in a living history museum. In 1966, Edmonton City Council approved in principle a proposal by the Rotary Clubs of Edmonton for a heritage park and fort reconstruction. Access to 158 acres on the site of the old Mellon farm was granted by the City of Edmonton. In July 1967, the purchase of buildings and artefacts from the defunct Danard Great Northwest Pioneer Village helped form the nucleus of 1885 Street. With initial funding provided by the Rotary Clubs of Edmonton and a Master Plan created in 1968, Fort Edmonton Park began to grow. Fifty four years after the original Fort Edmonton was torn down, the Fort Edmonton Historical Foundation was incorporated.
Construction of the Fort complex began in 1969 and three walls of the palisade and a bastion were completed in the first year. During the next five years, the balance of the Fort complex was constructed. On October 13, 1970, dedication of the Fort took place with a gun salute to welcome the First Nations Chiefs who were riding on horseback. In May of 1974, the Fort opened its doors and hosted 92,737 visitors that year.
The majority of 1885 Street was developed between 1972 and 1979, with 27 buildings representing period shops, businesses, homes, a school and a church. The Methodist Church, dating to 1873, is the oldest original building in the Park and in Edmonton.
The first historical interpreters were hired for the summer program in 1975; wagon rides and retail outlets were also added. Volunteers have always been an integral part of Fort Edmonton Park. From the beginning until the early 1980s, volunteers were involved in providing guided tours and sewing costumes for the interpretive program. The first of several Royal visits to the Park were hosted in 1977 and 1978, while 1978’s Marie-Anne (starring Tantoo Cardinal) was the first movie filmed in the Park.
In 1978, the development of 1905 Street began and the Fort Edmonton Foundation assumed operation of our iconic 1919 Baldwin steam locomotive and several rail cars. Visitors have been riding the rails through history ever since!