Getting to Edmonton 1880s Style


1885-fort -edmonton -parkIf you had to travel to Britain tomorrow, the
first thing you are likely to do is log on to your preferred
airline’s website, search out the best deal for a flight and book a
seat. The thing that you are most likely to do second is to start
dreading the flight.

We all complain about long flights; the bland food, the cramped
seating, the re-circulated air and having to pay for a blanket.
Albeit annoying, these are the things we take for granted. There
once was a time when travel was not so easy.

In the mid-1880s, traveling from Britain to Canada was a much
more complicated endeavour. Step one on the itinerary was boarding
a ship at the closest port and crossing the Atlantic. Immigrants
were packed tightly into cramped quarters for the week and a half
long trip until they reached either Quebec City or Halifax. Upon
arrival, they had to register and pass inspection at an immigration
hall, only to board yet another steamboat in order to travel across
the Great Lakes.

Step two was traveling across land. Settlers rode the Canadian
Pacific Railway from Fort William to Winnipeg or took a train to
St. Paul, Minnesota; the latter of which was unlikely as it was
more expensive and off-route.

Now they had to reach Edmonton from Winnipeg. Before the CPR
reached Calgary in 1883, immigrants had two options including
taking a costly steamer trip up the river or purchasing a cart or
buckboard. The thriftier travelers would depart, via their newly
acquired transportation, onto the Carlton Trail from Winnipeg to
Fort Edmonton.

The Carlton Trail was a well-established mail and freight route.
Often travelers would encounter Métis freighters, merchants and
farmers traveling in between the settlements. Along the trail there
were many stopping houses where wealthier travelers would pay a fee
to be fed and housed. Otherwise, travelers with less money to spare
would use the many stopping places that were established to camp
out near water, food and fire pits. Even with amenities, the
Carlton Trail was still a hard, and often muddy slog. Even once
rail to Calgary emphasized the Edmonton-Calgary trail, trips were
none too pleasant. On top of everything else she’d experienced,
Lovisa McDougall recalled barely being able to write a letter
because the mosquitos were so thick.

Upon arrival to Edmonton, occasionally called “The Most Remote
Settlement in the North-West,” immigrants were required to pay
$10.00 to register their land claim prior to settling. Once this
was done, they were finally able to build their home by hand.

Re-heated food and a window seat isn’t sounding so bad anymore,
is it?

Fort Edmonton Park has a representation of a covered wagon,
stocked with the tools, furniture and foodstuffs of a newly-arrived
settler family. If you’re interested in a glimpse of travel in the
style of the 1880s, learn more about our grand opening
weekend in 2011