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Hannah, Heritage Park

Many people, myself included, have been fascinated with going back in time. In a discipline where we focus on the lives of those who lived before us, time travel would be incredibly beneficial. Think of how much could be learned! Sadly, time travel is not yet a possibility, that being said though there are some historical experiences that allow us to immerse ourselves in time periods that no longer exist. Historical villages contain replicas or original buildings from past time periods and stage them so visitors can ‘experience’ what life in that time period would have been like. And with history occupying space in popular culture these villages allow people more in depth understanding of history. Most famously in Alberta and my personal favourite is Heritage Park located in Calgary on the banks of the Glenmore Reservoir. Spanning 127 acres and focusing on the turn of the 20thcentury Heritage Park strives to bring Western Canada in the early 1900s to life, and all things considered it does a remarkable job of it. The park presents a key era in the regions history in an educational, tangible and fun way that allows it to appeal to a massive audience and help historians engage the public in Canadian history.

Canadian history almost never seems incredibly exciting. Unlike the United States we had no wars which means Canadian history can lack appeal. Bringing the history to life changes that. You walk through houses that were inhabited over a hundred years ago and you get the ability to learn and interact with them in a way that you cannot with most of history. Houses are staged as if there were still people from the era living in them. The park ensures that it stages the houses either how they were historically or how it would have likely been historically, depending on the amount of information they have about the particular building. Part of how the staff know about how these buildings would have looked is because of how relatively recent the history is, in a span of approximately 12000 years of history, Heritage Park focuses on the settlement of Western Canada from approximately the 1860s to about the 1950s. That means their history only goes back about 100 years, and therefore many artifacts and stories survive. A number of buildings like the Prince House or the Livingston House are the homes of influential Albertans who inhabited the area during the early 1900s. Because of the power and influence of these prominent men, there is a greater emphasis on their history being preserved.

The period of history which is presented within Heritage Park is significant for the region. They focus mostly on the settlement of Western Canada, and it presents the history of the region in a way that is accessible to the general public. Additionally, they often have school groups coming through to visit, which allows children to get a much more in depth understanding of this important part of their regions history. The park makes history so tangible which can help increase interest in history among the general population. The park helped foster my interest in history, especially the era highlighted within the park. Heritage Park is appealing because it allows for people to experience and learn about a piece of Canadian history in a way they normally would be unable too. That is one of the amazing things about the park, it is designed for such a wide audience. My parents used to take us during the summer when my sisters and I were children. It allowed for a super fun educational experience. The park is also beloved by adults, both history buffs and non-history buffs alike.

One thing that allows it to appeal to such a large audience is how Heritage Park presents its information. Most of the buildings on site have signs out front giving a brief description of the building. Most buildings also have interpreters inside them who can provide more information about the building or artifacts within the building. This allows it to appeal to a large audience by allowing each individual guest to customize their visit. I was always the person that would ask the interpreters questions about the house or artifacts to learn more about the buildings. On the other hand, my sisters could not have cared less and were more focused on the midway rides and the various animals around the park. That ability to enrich and customize your experience makes Heritage Park appealing for such a large audience. People can get as much or as little information as they want. Some people go just for the midway rides and do not care for the history but regardless they learn something while they are at the park and that can enough to spark an interest in the history of our country.

All that being said, not everyone is an expert about Canadian history and the buildings on site do not arrive on site with all this information about how they were at the turn of the century. Therefore somehow the Park staff need to learn about these buildings and artifacts. In a promotional video published in a Calgary Herald article a staff member explains that they research the buildings on the property. While she says it in the context of researching the homes to explain possible paranormal activity, it is not a stretch to assume that Heritage Park has to do a lot of research about its building and artifacts to ensure they can provide visitors the most enriching and historically accurate experience possible. The likelihood that the staff are able to find information about all the buildings in very slim so they do likely have to make some guesses about how things would have been. That being said though the park has been open since 1964 so they have plenty of experience staging buildings like the turn of the century. This means that even when they do have to fudge the details a bit the buildings will still be fairly authentic.

Heritage Park pulls it all together in a way that works so well. You feel as though you are stepping back in time when you enter the park gates. It creates an environment where you feel like you are really immersed in the time period. It was one of my favorite places to visit as a kid, and to this day I still love the park. It allowed my interest in history to expand and grow. Any choices made by the team who curates the park’s many exhibits goes almost unnoticed because they are made to reflect the time period presented so they blend right in and you would not realize that it was not original to the building. Additionally, Heritage Park was initially suggested as being a children’s pioneer theme park, therefore it was designed to be historical, educational, and fun! It was designed in such a way to showcase Canada’s pioneer history that makes in enjoyable and Heritage Park definitely achieves that. Heritage Park also has a collection of antique midway rides which always draws interest. Some are classics which we still see to this day, and some are relics of the time period they originate from. The midway rides illustrate the initial concept of being a theme park but still amuse kids and adults; they also help the park being interesting and appealing to everyone. The combination of factors such as a focus on being educational and fun and being able to customize and enrich your experience make Heritage Park work in a way that other places and museums cannot.

Heritage Park is such a unique place. It serves to educate the general population about Canadian history and it does such a great job of it. It is truly one of my favourite places to visit in the summer. It brings together the history of the settlement of western Canada from the 1860s all the way up to the 1940s and it presents important history for the region in such a tangible way that allows people to engage with history in a truly unique way. The park is set up in a way that it appeals to such a large audience. Combine the large audience with the historical showcasing and the park proves that tangible ‘living’ history can do wonders to spark interest and engage people. In a discipline where we can struggle to connect and engage the general population with history, Heritage Park shows us that we can make history appealing, fun and engaging while keeping it up to our historical accuracy standards.

Bibliography

Heritage Park. “Facilities.” Park Information. Accessed April 3, 2018. https://www.heritagepark.ca/park-information/park-history/facilities.html.

Heritage Park. “Park Beginnings.” Park Information. Accessed April 6, 2018. https://www.heritagepark.ca/park-information/park-history/park-beginnings.html.

Sproule, Kerianne. “Video: Take a haunted stroll through Heritage Park.” Calgary Herald. 15 February 2017. http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/video-take-a-haunted-stroll-through-heritage-park (Accessed April 11 2018).

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