With a Side of History: Sunday Brunch at Fort Edmonton Park

Fort Edmonton Park is easily my favourite City of Edmonton attraction. I’m a sucker for amusements, and the 1920s midway at Fort Edmonton is one of the city’s best kept secrets. In the off-season, however, the Park  operates on a limited basis – Capitol Theatre screens vintage films, Hotel Selkirk offers temporary accommodation year-round, and Johnson’s Café (located in Hotel Selkirk) hosts a special brunch every Sunday.

Mack and I were invited by Fort Edmonton Park to try their Sunday Brunch last weekend. Before settling on driving to the Park, we did explore public transit options (especially given the Park lends its name to an LRT stop). The closest we could get on a Sunday, however, was a bus ride from, ironically, University station followed by a 21 minute walk.

Fort Edmonton Park

Hotel Selkirk

Reservations are taken for seatings every half hour from 10:30am until 1pm. By the time we arrived for our noon reservation, we found Johnson’s Cafe nearly full, made up of small parties of two and larger groups of families with small children.

From the outset, the meal was of good value, food-wise, and more than justified $32.95 cost for adults (seniors tickets are $27.95 and children 4-12 are $19.95). We were told that over the years, the brunch selection has increased significantly, from occupying one corner of the dining room to now taking up the hotel lobby in its entirety.

Fort Edmonton Park

Omelette station

The Sunday brunch buffet spread spanned breakfast, lunch and dessert options. We started off with breakfast, taking full advantage of the omelette station, plump breakfast sausages and fantastically crispy bacon. We didn’t sample the eggs benedict, as it was doubtful the yolks would remain runny in the chafing dishes, but I did really enjoy the Parmesan grilled tomatoes.

Fort Edmonton Park

Breakfast for two

We returned to sample the lunch choices, which included several cold salads, cheeses and charcuterie, seasonal vegetables, pasta, pork loin in a pineapple sauce, grilled chicken, and a carving station offering up nicely marbled beef brisket with a peppercorn jus.

Fort Edmonton Park

Carving station

To be frank, I saved up the most room for dessert. I was most impressed with the dessert selection, highlighted by a showstopping red velvet cake and a deliciously moist spinach and beet cake (the green layers were vibrant without any noticeable spinach flavour). I was also drawn to the pineapple upside down cake, decadently served with a side of cream, and the notion of lavender and apple shooters, an interesting alternative to alcoholic shots. Mack was drawn to the kid-friendly desserts, including Rice Krispie treats and mini cupcakes.

Fort Edmonton Park

Desserts!

Service was fantastic throughout – there were numerous staff ensuring the food stations were constantly refilled, while the dining room staff checked in with us constantly, topping up our coffee and water without request.

After brunch, we wandered 1905 and 1920 Streets, peering into windows and enjoying the scenic facades on a sunny winter afternoon. In the summer, brunch includes admission to the Park, which operates May until September. On that warm day, we couldn’t help but wonder why Fort Edmonton couldn’t be a year-round attraction, or at least one with a season extended beyond one-off events like Christmas Reflections and Easter hunts.

Fort Edmonton Park

Visiting with the horses at Mellon Farm

As a part of the Winter City Strategy, the Park has built-in warming stations in its indoor facilities, and could easily replace train and streetcar transportation with horse-drawn wagon rides (an attraction that operates now, but is only available to groups). It would also be a great way to educate people about how Edmontonians in previous eras worked to stay warm.

Fort Edmonton Park

1920 Street

Mack and I both agreed that while we enjoyed our brunch experience at Hotel Selkirk, because it required a trip to Fort Edmonton without the promise of visiting the attraction as a whole, we would be more likely to return during the summer months when it could be combined with the operational Park.

Of note, because we did commit to driving to the Park, we detoured to finally check out the Alfred H. Savage Centre, located on the opposite side of Fox Drive from Fort Edmonton (accessible through the Whitemud Park turnoff). It’s a lovely facility with restrooms that functions as a warm-up centre for the adjacent toboggan hill (marked as "closed" that day, in spite of all of the families out enjoying the beautiful day). Consider walking off the sumptuous meal with a jaunt in the trails, as we did.

Whitemud Park

At Whitemud Park

Thanks again to Fort Edmonton Park for hosting us! The Winter Sunday Brunch series runs until March 27, 2016.

Check out Linda’s review of Sunday brunch here.

Food Through the Ages @ Fort Edmonton Park

Over the August long weekend, Mack and I were invited to attend the second annual Food Through the Ages event at Fort Edmonton Park. Though we do our best to visit the Park once every summer regardless (I love the midway!), this seemed like a great excuse to do so, all while experiencing the attraction through a particular lens.

Fort Edmonton Park

The train!

In 2012, Fort Edmonton Park introduced Food Through the Ages as a means for visitors to sample typical dishes served in the different eras represented throughout the Park. It was a success, but this year, they tweaked the formula somewhat. Besides making it clear that only tastes (as opposed to full meals) would be offered, the Park also instigated that visitors would have to work for their food by performing period-specific tasks. The children we saw participating that day were relishing the opportunity to earn their keep (all in a wonderful learning context), but I have to say that as an adult, I had a great time as well!

Fort Edmonton Park

Cree Camp interpreter

The Saturday of that long weekend celebrated life in the 1846 Fort (I’m a little sad I didn’t get to try the roasted pea coffee), while Sunday focused on 1885 (and tempted with rabbit stew!). Our visit highlighted tasks and tastes of 1905 and 1920.

Fort Edmonton Park

How about some tongue toast or jellied moose nose?

The Park staff were nice enough to organize a tour guide to accompany us throughout the afternoon. Although we’ve been to Fort Edmonton countless times, our guide Shannon pointed us to several things we have overlooked in the past, such as a replica of the Avro Avian Biplane flown by Wop May.

Fort Edmonton Park

Avro Avian Biplane

We started with mail delivery on 1905 Street. We were paid for carrying a package from the post office to one of the residences which we used to purchase a sample of jellied duck. The dominant flavour was actually the poultry stock, and the texture was better than it sounded.

Fort Edmonton Park

Mack earns his keep

Fort Edmonton Park

Jellied duck

Across the street in Tent City, I helped with laundry. Using the washboard reminded me of how grateful we are to have electric machines for this chore! With the money I earned, we purchased some freshly made beans on toast from the camp.

Fort Edmonton Park

Manual laundry

Fort Edmonton Park

Mack loves beans on toast

Over on 1920 Street, we tried our hand at the Alberta Government Telephone Exchange. Though we’ve been to the Park plenty of times, this was the first time we’ve encountered an interpreter in this building. It was neat learning about how the system worked (including the “party lines”!), and even connecting a call.

Fort Edmonton Park

Too many switches!

For our trouble, we were rewarded with hot potato cakes and oatmeal cookies at the Mellon Farm.

Fort Edmonton Park

Potato cakes

We saved the best for last – the 1920’s Midway! We helped clear the grass of rocks and debris, and Mack even tried out for the circus!

Fort Edmonton Park

Hard at work

Fort Edmonton Park

The Amazing Balance Man

The money we were paid was enough to purchase cheese sandwiches and some lemonade. Simple but appropriate for the context!

Fort Edmonton Park

Staple food

Of course, we couldn’t leave the park without a few spins on the carousel and the Ferris wheel.

Whee!

It sounds like Food Through the Ages was again well received, so make sure to look for it again next year! Thanks to the Park for allowing us to take part, and to our enthusiastic tour guide Shannon! And though Fort Edmonton Park is now closed for the season for regular admission, check out their calendar to learn about their upoming special and holiday events.

Homeward Trust Volunteer Appreciation Party at Fort Edmonton Park

As far as short-term volunteer commitments go, I think Homeward Trust offers some great opportunities to give back. Whether at Homeless Connect or through the Homeless Count, being involved in their projects always feels rewarding.

That said, they also know how to appreciate their volunteers. In the past, they have treated us to baseball games, but with the Capitals out of commission this year, they had to do something different: they rented out the midway at Fort Edmonton Park!

Homeward Trust Volunteer Appreciation

Last Thursday, Mack and I joined at least a hundred other volunteers after hours at the Park. The sunny conditions were perfect for the festivities, which kicked off with a barbecue supper. Everything was organized to reflect a date at an old fashioned carnival, right down to the glass bottle drinks.

Homeward Trust Volunteer Appreciation

Picnic supper

After supper, the Park staff came out to play, and the midway came alive. Mack will tell you I was most looking forward to taking a spin on the Ferris wheel –after several failed attempts, we were finally at the Park at a time when the ride was actually running!

Homeward Trust Volunteer Appreciation

Ferris Wheel

The view may have been slightly more interesting if we had been facing the other side of the midway, or if the Park was fully open and filled with patrons at the train station, but it was still a big kid thrill to perch at the top of the wheel. It turns out you can see the Whitemud from the vantage point.

Homeward Trust Volunteer Appreciation

We also indulged in a spin on the carousel, where Mack, in spite of himself, had a really good time.

Homeward Trust Volunteer Appreciation

Woot!

Most of the carnival games were also open, with prizes like paddle boards, frisbees and Chinese finger traps up for grabs. Though it was fun just to play, I actually won a few things, too!

Homeward Trust Volunteer Appreciation

Hoop-la

After we had our fun, we took a walk down 1920 and 1905 Streets. We thought the rest of the Park would be quiet, but it turned out there was a show going on at Capitol Theatre that night! It was nice to see others enjoying the attraction that evening as well.

Homeward Trust Volunteer Appreciation

Capitol Theatre

Homeward Trust Volunteer Appreciation

Can’t you just imagine the streetcar going by?

Homeward Trust Volunteer Appreciation

One of my favourite places in the Park

Homeward Trust Volunteer Appreciation

On the swings at Gyro Park

Thanks again to Homeward Trust for a great night!

A Visit to Fort Edmonton Park

I’ve written in the past that Fort Edmonton Park is my favourite City attraction, but it has been a while since I’ve been able to enjoy it in on my own. So for my birthday this year, I asked Mack to take me to the Park.

The day started out with the kind of weather we have been accustomed to this summer – overcast, threatening rain, with fleeting rays of sunshine. But we didn’t want to let the grey spoil our day, and headed out anyway. Fortunately, the skies held up for the most part!

I was most looking forward to taking in the 1920s midway, and specifically, riding the ferris wheel (those Everwood fans out there will know why). I was disappointed that the ferris wheel wasn’t in operation that day due to the windy conditions, but we made the most of it anyway!

Fort Edmonton Park

I heart the midway

The carousel was up first, its antique horses reminding me very much of the Zeum Carousel in San Francisco.

Fort Edmonton Park

Whee!

We also decided to try our hand at some of the midway games. I think the one operator took pity on us, because he offered us not one, but two choice prizes even though we didn’t quite win the game.

Fort Edmonton Park

Steady…

Fort Edmonton Park

Yes, I missed

Mack’s favourite part of the day was riding the steam locomotive. He loves trains!

Fort Edmonton Park

We took our time wandering the buildings and storefronts, Mack found a room with his name on it:

Fort Edmonton Park

Can I move in?

Fort Edmonton Park

Taylor Hall’s mini-me!

Fort Edmonton Park

The pigs (on loan from Irvings) seemed so very happy rooting in the mud

Edmonton Bulletin

Business at the Edmonton Bulletin

Fort Edmonton Park

One room schoolhouse on 1885 Street

Fort Edmonton Park

Beautiful table setting in the Rutherford House

Fort Edmonton Park

Greenhouse on 1905 Street

Tea on the boardwalk

Fort Edmonton Park

Encore!

We also tried our hand at the Tom Thumb Miniature Golf Course. I’m usually terrible at putting, but because it was my birthday, I think Mack let me win!

Fort Edmonton Park

Fore!

Fort Edmonton Park

Capitol Theatre, still under construction at that time

We ended the day at Johnson’s Café, the restaurant inside Hotel Selkirk. Our reservation was at 6pm to coincide with the closing of the park. It was so odd to see the streets nearly deserted, a stark contrast to just a few hours before.

But if we thought it was quiet outside, it was almost more so inside the restaurant – we were among just two other groups in the room. Because of the close proximity between the parties, one would think ambiance would be that much more important, and without any music, conversations were easily overheard. Our server was also a tad awkward, checking in too frequently for a meal that could have been paced much better, especially for a restaurant that is undoubtedly a destination.

Fort Edmonton Park

Johnson’s Cafe

Unfortunately, the food didn’t make up for the lack of atmosphere. My cream of mushroom and leek soup with wild Alberta mushrooms, leeks, and chardonnay wine ($5) was my best course, seasoned well. Mack’s avocado caesar salad ($9) was great to look at – served in a parmesan frico cup with a generous avocado fan on top, but was difficult to break down and eat with a fork and knife. It would have helped if the frico was warm instead of cold.

Fort Edmonton Park

Cream of mushroom and leek soup

Fort Edmonton Park

Avocado caesar salad

I ordered the special – steak medallions with a chai tea glaze. For starters, I wouldn’t have called the meat I was served medallions, but I could have easily overlooked that if the steak had been cooked anywhere near the requested medium. The chai glaze was nice, but nothing could have remedied the overcooked, chewy meat (a diner at one of the other tables sent back his steak, perhaps something I should have done as well).

Fort Edmonton Park

Steak medallions with a chai tea glaze

Mack fared better with his halibut wellington ($35), served with a lemon and dill sauce, but the fish was unevenly cooked.

Fort Edmonton Park

Halibut wellington

At the end of the day, we were disappointed with Johnson’s Cafe, and wondered if our lacklustre meal was an isolated experience. If the grand vision for the redevelopment of Fort Edmonton Park is to succeed (which considered building up more evening food service options), because of the attraction’s location, the food and service must be top notch. Since the City’s expertise doesn’t lie in the  hospitality business, perhaps for the future, a model such as the one adopted by the Muttart Conservatory (which saw popular local chain Culina provide the food services there), should be considered for Fort Edmonton Park as well.

Besides dinner though, I had a great time at Fort Edmonton Park. And with Capitol Theatre to check out (and a ferris wheel still to ride), I’ll be back again soon!

Retreat at Fort Edmonton Park

I had been researching different locations for an upcoming program staff retreat for some time, and eventually, we decided on a venue in Fort Edmonton Park.

The Jasper House Hotel featured two levels of usable space, which came in handy for the activities we had in mind. It was also fairly affordable at $219 for the day, especially considering some of the other prices I had come across, and also offered off-site catering possibilities. Of course, as I hadn’t personally visited the venue before booking it, I was expecting some glitches to pop up.

Jasper House Hotel

1885 Street (bright and early that morning)

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Besides having to play traffic cop in the morning to direct my colleagues to the poorly-marked parking lot, the Hotel worked great. Being at Fort Edmonton Park was a refreshing change from the office, and at lunch, everyone was able to wander the grounds on a cool but sunny autumn day. The Park is closed to the public on weekdays, and until the end of December, is only open on the weekends. As such, the buildings were all closed, but the picturesque streets still provided ample opportunities to snap a few photos.

Wagon wheel

Trees (by the river, I could hear the leaves rustling in the light breeze…it was lovely)

Gyro Park

Come, Pig

Kelly’s Saloon

Wagon

All in all, it was a great day out with my workmates. My photo set is here.

An Underappreciated Amusement: Fort Edmonton Park

I had the opportunity to join locals and tourists alike at Fort Edmonton Park this week, and wandered the recreated streets of eras past under the scorching hot sun.

Here comes the train

I usually end up at the facility once a year in a volunteer or work capacity, and I love it. It’s easy to feel like a kid again when surrounded by costumed interpreters in the “living” museum, and imagining what life would have been like at the time.

Settler

The park showcases Edmonton in four eras: 1846 (fur trade); 1885 (early settlement); 1905 (beginnings of a modern city); and 1920 (modern times). Though I’m usually most engrossed by the fort (and hearing for an umpteenth time what little could be traded for a beaver pelt), I’m most taken by the more modern streets.

At the trading post

Rowand House

Random turkeys on the boardwalk

Horse at the end of the tunnel?

 

Daly’s Drug Store (formerly my must-stop, until I discovered that they moved my beloved raspberry drops to the Midway)

Photo in Ernest Brown’s studio

Picturesque Hotel Selkirk on 1920 Street

Much to my delight (and flashbacks to the Everwood series finale), I found a new addition to the Park since my last visit. The 1920s Midway includes a restored ferris wheel built in the 1940s, a carousel, and so-billed “old fashioned” midway games.

Midway (the ferris wheel is just $2 to ride!)

Sideshow banners (they concealed a tented picnic area)

Games

The only downside to visiting the Park is the expense – it is by far the most costly City of Edmonton-run attraction, at $13.25/adult, $10/youth or senior, and $6.75/child. On the bright side, admission during the slow winter months (though limited to 1905 Street traffic only) when the park is open on the weekends in November and December is free.

My pictures are here.