When you think about it even a little bit, you begin to grasp how crazy awesome Heritage Park is. At 127 acres, it’s Canada’s oldest living history museum, created by literally moving really old buildings from across the province and by rebuilding replicas into a life-sized old town with working blacksmiths, bakeries and post offices. Calgary sometimes has a reputation for knocking down the old to build the new, but Heritage Park is constantly building up the old.
2014 is Heritage Park’s 50th anniversary, which means they are going all out with parties and promotions. It’s open all year, but this May long weekend is when Heritage Park officially kicks-off its summer season. Here are 50 reasons why you should take your cue from the 570,000 other annual visitors and visit (or revisit) Heritage Park in 2014.
1. You’ll watch this video and the voiceover narration guy will make you want to go to Heritage Park.
2. The park has more than 180 exhibits. Half of them were relocated to the park, one quarter are restored originals and one quarter are analogues (which means they were built to mimic what once was).
3. The park has a collection of more than 50,000 artifacts, most of which were donated. It also has 13,000 items in a replica costume collection.
4. The butter tarts at the Alberta Bakery might be the best butter tarts ever made. We’re willing to test all and any competing butter tarts to make sure our assessment is correct.
5. You can go inside Nellie McClung’s house. OK, not her real house (that is down in the Beltlne and currently partly occupied by the Colombian consulate). In June 2014, Heritage Park will open its replica of McClung’s home. The Famous 5 Centre of Canadian Women will have a classroom and library, interpretive exhibits and a verandah for afternoon tea.
6. There are quilts. Lots of quilts. Festival of Quilts is May 24 and 25. There will be 750 quilts hung from laundry lines and balconies and fence rails. There is also a private collection of antique quilts.
7. There’s a new train-themed playground.
8. On Victoria Day there is proper afternoon tea in the tea room of the Wainwright Hotel. Think dainty finger sandwiches and scones with Devonshire cream.
10. There will be a really big party on Canada Day. July 1, 1964 was Heritage Park’s official opening day. For its 50th anniversary the bash will include extended hours, fireworks (for the first time ever on the park), a free pancake breakfast for the first 2014 people, a pipe band, a citizenship ceremony and a heritage quest.
11. Speaking of the heritage quest, it will put pre-registered teams against each other in a series of physical, mental and skill-based challenges. All of the challenges will harken back to olden times.
12. There is an entire weekend dedicated to berries – Saskatoon berries, chokeberries, raspberries, buffalo berries, and strawberries. Western Wildberry Weekend is all about the berries that the settlers and First Nations used in the summer.
13. There’s an antique midway, including a carousel built in 1904, 1920s Dangler swings, an 1893 ferris wheel and the Caterpillar made circa 1928. They have all been restored and are perfectly safe.
14. It’s old school. Literally, there is an old school. If you’re from Calgary, you probably went on a field trip and spent a day learning like they did in the one-room Wheedon School. And there are tablets – the kind that use chalk and not touch screens.
15. You can see how tiny Calgary’s first town hall was. Heritage Park built a replica of the 1885 building that housed the police office and jail cells, council chamber, clerk’s office and court house. This early cowork space didn’t last long before the various groups decided they needed bigger, separate digs.
16. There’s water. Heritage Park sits on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Glenmore reservoir, which is not original to Calgary. It was created in 1932.
17. You get to take a streetcar to the gates. Part of the $65 million renovation from 2007 to 2010 included bringing the parking lot up close to the gate. But, if you aren’t lucky enough to get a prime spot or you just don’t want one, you can still take the streetcars (which ran in Calgary proper from 1909 to 1950) up to the gate.
18. There’s a Finnish sauna. It originally belonged to Sylvester Saha around the turn of the 19th century when he wanted to bring some of the comforts of his Finnish homeland to Alberta.
19. The smell of hot iron and the pounding of metal is strangely compelling. There are live demos of blacksmithing at Flett’s Blacksmith Shop.
20. There is Music in the Plaza. On Wednesday evenings through the summer (July 9 to August 27), a bandstand is set up in the Town Square just outside the park’s gates. Put down a blanket or get a table on the patio of the Selkirk Grille and enjoy two hours of live music.
21. There is roving street theatre courtesy of Rosebud Theatre and Heritage Park’s theatrical troupe.
22. You can have campfire chili and prime rib Alberta beef burgers after enjoying cocktails and a sunset ride on a train for the Railway Days Dinner.
23. You can go into a sod hut, which is just like the estimated one million houses used between 1900 and 1910 in North America when the settlers came west and realized there weren’t enough logs to build houses. You can stop complaining about how small and dark your home is now.
24. The park is haunted. Specifically, the Canmore Opera House and the Prince House. Get the real scary scoop during Ghosts and Gourmet, October 29 to 31.
25. You can sort of imagine the slow romance on taking a paddle wheeler out into the open water. The S.S. Moyie paddlewheeler originally ferried passengers on Kootenay Lake. Heritage Park’s S.S. Moyie takes to the Glenmore Reservoir and is actually a half-size replica of the original. It runs on diesel.
26. The next time you go to a wedding in the park, bask in the spirit of Jack Benny and Ginger Rogers. They both performed in the Canmore Opera House. The 1898 log building is one of several Heritage Park wedding venues.
27. At the Country Kickback (August 23 to 24) you can practise your roping, butter churning, ice cream making and barn dancing skills.
28. There is always ice cream. It’s at Vulcan Ice Cream Parlour.
29. There is foie gras, charcuterie, tartar and other fancy foods, all at the Selkirk Grille. There also happens to be a bar there and Selkirk Grille serves family-style supper on Sundays. Selkirk is located before the gates so you can go anytime.
30. Soon there will be a fancy dining car. A 1929 River Forth rail car with a solarium observation deck is being restored and will open in late summer. Funds raised from renting that car will go toward restoring a 1912 wooden Colonist car.
31. There’s a little synagogue that was built in 1913 in Sibbald, Alberta. It was moved to Hanna and became a residential house. It took $1 million to move it to Heritage Park in 2008 when it became the first Jewish house of worship to be housed in a Canadian historic park.
32. You can play games, see old-timey hunting tools and check out three tipis at the Aboriginal Encampment, which represents the Treaty 7 nations.
33. Heritage Day in August will be awesome with a concert headlined by Holly Cole.
34. You can trick your kids into appreciating modern conveniences. Home on the Range is an overnight camp for kids ages 11 to 14 during which they live like settlers and do ranch chores or apprentice in a trade. There are also fun activities like barn dances.
35. Even the gardens are a throwback. Veggie and flower gardens include old-fashioned plants such as Oxheart carrots, Scarlet Runner beans, hollyhocks, bleeding hearts and more.
36. There is a 4,300-metre loop of railway track that you can ride in locomotive style.
37. There is going to be a rodeo. On August 9, the Friends of Heritage Park are bringing bull riding, barrel racing, mutton busting and mini-chuckwagons to the rodeo grounds at the park. Who knew Heritage Park had rodeo grounds?
38. This commercial will make you want to run through Heritage Park’s grassy fields to get a lollipop.
39. The cheese buns at the bakery are worth a visit all on their own.
40. There is shopping. In addition to the shops outside the gates in the town square, there are seven shops inside the park. The Claresholm General Store has candy. The Botsford Harness Shop has toys. Webster House Fine and Used Furnishings has silverware.
41. You can sorta see what the Calgary Public Market looked like. The 75,000-square-foot Gasoline Alley Museum is modeled after it. Inside you’ll see plenty of antique cars and gas pumps.
42. You can put down your iPhone and get a family photo taken made to look antique at Park Lane Portrait Studio.
43. There is old-fashioned candy.
44. The sounds of the train whistling and chugging along is a summer must.
45. You can get grilled cheese sandwiches like they served them in the 1930s at Railway Cafe.
46. You can purchase stamps and postcards in the park and mail them from the Post Office and Telephone Exchange.
47. People watching from the Wainwright Hotel porch is the best.
48. In the winter, you can skate on fake ice.
49. There is free parking.
50. You can get the 50th anniversary pass. It gets you all of the benefits of a regular annual pass – unlimited admission, admission to special events, rides on the train, paddlewheeler, streetcar, wagon and antique midway, free pancake breakfasts and more. Plus, the anniversary pass will get you a welcome package, a complimentary photo session at the portrait studio, coupons for your friends and a sneak peek of the Famous 5 exhibit. (Annual passes, $37.99 to $64.99; anniversary passes, $54.99 to $69.99)