On our first full day in the city, we were keen to visit the Historical Village on the southern outskirts. With one of the C-Train lines out of action, we caught an Uber there, although could have used the busway which stopped very close by. The Historical Village was a similar sort of tourist attraction to the Beamish site back in North East England, primarily focusing on the early years of settlement in Canada’s west.
Having entered the park, the first attraction was Gasoline Alley. As its name might suggest, this was focused on cars but in fact there were lots of original gas (petrol) pumps throughout the display and several period tankers and breakdown trucks too, including the very earliest type with a basic pulley on the back of a truck. As would be expected, the focus was on rural vehicles that were in use in the Canadian outback and prairies and dated back to the earliest days of cars and trucks, including a Model T Ford. While most vehicles were in immaculate condition, some were displayed as they had been found, with rotted wooden elements and some of the metal elements rusted away. With some of the early vehicles on show, the very basic mechanics were clear to see. There were also some beautiful 1930s era cars, like the 1932 Auburn sedan shown below. The display was quite fascinating and well thought through.
Having had our fill of all things gasoline, we visited the home of the equivalent to the UK’s suffragette – led by 5 women striving to be allowed to vote.
Next, we caught the park’s steam train around to the other side of the park. The locomotive was a very archetypal American-style example with cow-catcher and a Pacific 4-6-0 axle arrangement. Its whistle echoed through the park all day. It was only a short ride to the other side of the park and we alighted in the actual village, with a range of period shops, a hotel and civic buildings. Some of the buildings were replicas, but we learned that most had been moved there in one piece.
After buying a huge ice cream from the dairy, we wandered through the village. Staff seemed to be mainly volunteers and all were delighted to talk to us as foreign tourists. We were visiting Calgary as a mayoral election was looming and, not wanting to miss out, the village was holding their own election for mayor. A small acting troupe were recreating a number of hustings scenes throughput the day, with a woman seeking election and a rather stupid man campaigning against her with his wife as his agent. We also learned the running joke that the village’s current mayor was always napping during the day and unable to attend the hustings. All good fun and attracted quite a crowd.
The Village had a replica grain elevator/silo for storing grain and transshipping to wagons. Canada’s west was built up around the Canadian Pacific railway line. We’d already heard on the Rocky Mountaineer that stations were generally 8 miles apart because 4 miles was the maximum distance that a farmer could travel to take their crop to the railway for transhipment and still get home to their farms that same night. The railway company built the grain facilities, similar to that replicated here, to service the farms within 4 miles radius and then towns grew up around those. Some towns never thrived and subsequently died, but even now this pattern of development can be seen across the west, even after their original purpose has disappeared.
The town’s newspaper office was working too; the linotype lettering and engravings of a newspaper page being constructed in front of us. In the blacksmiths, a volunteer was working hard fashioning items from iron, while the reconstructed roundhouse had large snow ploughs and various track maintenance vehicles, along with a sister locomotive to the one we’d ridden behind but which had been converted to diesel. The building also had an iconic caboose – the brake van characteristic of North American freight trains, with a raised lookout post for the brakeman to watch the train and communicate with their colleague in the locomotive at the front.
The park also had a cottage hospital and a synogogue, with enthusiastic, chatty volunteers in period costume. The last building we visited, which was on a bit of high ground with views of the city, was a windmill. This particular example had been constructed without metal. The Eastern European family who’d originally built it had created components from bushel that had been cured into a very hard substance that was an old but effective alternative to metal. The family had apparently been gratified to find that the Canadian prairies were well suited to growing rye, which was familiar from their home country.
After returning from the village to the hotel, where we went for a couple of drinks in the bar, we later went to a ‘vegetarian forward’ restaurant, called Ten Foot Henry. While they had some menu items with meat ingredients, the majority were excellent vegetarian dishes, presented in a shared tapas style. Who knew that tomatoes on sour dough toast could taste so good? We were sat at a counter by the kitchen and could see the kitchen staff working very hard throughout the evening to create dishes for us and the other patrons; we were mesmerised by their hard work and speed.