Edmonton’s Old Strathcona has been ranked in the Top 10 Coolest Neighbourhoods in Canada (as well as being named a Provincial Historic Area), so I just had to pay the area a visit. This stretch of Edmonton is also known as the Old Strathcona Theatre District, housing nine theatres, forming a live theatre hub for the city. I found everything from old hotels to chic boutiques and gourmet ice cream shops along its main artery, Whyte Avenue.
This area began in 1891, when the Calgary and Edmonton Railway Company completed its Calgary line to a terminus south of the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. There was pressure to end the line in Edmonton by crossing the river, however the company sought to monopolize the benefits of future land sales and thus created South Edmonton. A new commercial centre was developed that soon outgrew Edmonton.
The railway’s completion resulted in Strathcona’s prosperity. Between new demands on infrastructure to contain the growth and the building of the High Level Bridge, Strathcona’s citizens voted to join Edmonton in 1912.
During another boom in the 70′s, Strathcona was revitalized into what it’s become today: a wealth of pubs, shops, theatre, small businesses, and funky architecture for all to enjoy.
To tie in with this historical visit, I headed next to Fort Edmonton Park. History buffs will enjoy a visit to Canada’s largest living history museum.
I was met by one of the staff to take in a few highlights of the 158 acre park. The Assassination of Jesse James (starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck) was filmed throughout the park in the fall of 2005. The production team even used one of the park’s working steam trains to film a robbery sequence. I can only imagine what the park might have looked like filled with production trailers!
The park is divided into four time eras: Fur Trading (The 1846 Fort), Settlement (1885 Street), Municipal (1905 Street), and Metropolitan (1920 Street & the Midway). You can take a train to the Fort and work your way to the future. Staff are dressed in period costume, adding to the fun.
A must-see is the Capitol Theatre, a fully functional theatre with its own production season. The theatre is a reconstruction of the circa 1929 original.
While inside the pretty pink and red theatre, catch the 4D (no glasses needed!) 15 minute film “Northern Light: The Edmonton Journey“. This educational and lively film covers Edmonton’s boom period as well as its early settlers.
We strolled around 1905 Street, stepping inside The Rutherford House (the original, built in 1895), in all its restored glory.
There’s a clean and stark Bank of Montreal here, and in sharp contrast, a tent city (outlined in the film). This is a grim reminder as to how quickly Edmonton grew at the time.
We managed to make it inside The Fort just in time for one of the hardest downpours (complete with lightning and thunder) that I’ve seen in awhile anywhere. As we were the only ones inside, the staff took us around and chatted about the history of the Rundle House and chapel. Basic by our modern standards, this house contained glass imported from abroad and was a showcase of wealth in its day.
There’s so much to take in here that I’d budget most of the day to really get a sense of the park and its outlay.
As well, if you plan a visit on a Wednesday (through August 22), you can enjoy a 3 pm High Tea at Johnson’s Café inside the Hotel Selkirk, another splendid building not to miss on your self-guided tour.
Fort Edmonton Park is located at the corner of Fox and Whitemud Drives in Edmonton. Visit the website for more details.
My entrance to Fort Edmonton Park and guided tour were courtesy of Fort Edmonton Park.