Saturday, August 15, 2015

Fort Edmonton Redux . . .

When we last visited Edmonton in 1996, the U.S.A. women's soccer team won the World Cup, the sun shone brightly, and we visited Fort Edmonton for the first time, not realizing we would return one day. We're back. The population has doubled from about 800,000 to 1.5 million. Modern freeways mimic what I remember of driving in L.A., and yesterday, we revisited Fort Edmonton.

Rowand's Folly, Fort Edmonton

Chief Trader, Company Store
We spent about four hours in the oldest part of the park, a recreation of Fort Edmonton in 1846, exactly the period of my current book. Staffed with very well-informed and helpful costumed volunteers, this living history section of the park was fascinating, positioned as it once was right along the North Saskatchewan River.

At that time, John Rowand was a demanding Chief Factor at Fort Edmonton, enforcing a strict sense of duty with a volatile temper. When told a man was too sick to work, he said something like: "If he is not dead after three days, he is not too sick to work."

In 1842, Rowand built a very unique house to conduct business, entertain, and to serve as his family's private quarters, the largest at any of the Hudson Bay Company forts. Dubbed Rowand's Folly, the three-storied house was about 2,100 square feet with the third floor reserved for family and guests.

Kane's study at Fort Edmonton
But my primary interest is with Paul Kane who stayed at Fort Edmonton for a month during the holidays on his journey west in 1847 and again on his return east in 1848.

Rowand gave Kane quite a luxurious though small two rooms near his own bedroom. Decorated as it once must have looked, the outer room features Kane's sketches pinned on the wall, while the tiny bedroom is fitted up with a twin bed and Hudson's Bay Company blanket.

Kane's sleeping quarters,
Fort Edmonton
Class consciousness can be seen in the bed coverings throughout the Fort.

The Chief Factor, officers of the Company, and wealthier workers used furs atop those Hudson Bay Company blankets, while the poorer workers simply rolled in blankets and slept on the floor, space available.

Volunteer in full Metis dress,
Fort Edmonton
A kind volunteer dressed as a M├ętis donned his full regalia, explaining that the Assumption sash, which he wore, was also used to calculate how many bales of furs each man carried to ensure fair pay was received. This reminded me of Incan quippus, knotted in somewhat the same style as a kind of record. Notice the lovely beaver-skin top hat worn -- and the coat over a vest, formal dress for the wilderness.

Later today, we're visiting the Royal Albert Museum -- if our feet hold up.

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