If you’ve ever wondered about the history behind the stately Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre or the stories of those buried in Beechmount Cemetery, you can learn more from July 2 to 8 at the Historic Festival & Doors Open Edmonton.
“It’s actually two festivals in one,” said Tim O’Grady, vice president of The Edmonton and District Historical Society.
The 22-year-old festival is an initiative of the society.
“It’s a way for people to get into the back doors of businesses they wouldn’t normally be able to get into,” said O’Grady. Many cities have an open doors day, but Edmonton’s event is different because of the historical aspect. While the festival has ongoing partners, the society reaches out to new partners every year. Royal Alexandra Hospital, new this year, is celebrating its 100-year anniversary.
The society acts as a hub for the festival and every organization runs its own event. While some events have an entry fee, others are free.
“All the church tours are free and the Royal Alexandra Hospital tour is free as well,” said O’Grady.
Part of the reason the festival started was because many smaller organizations didn’t have the resources of a larger organization or festival. “Our organization takes care of all the marketing and promotion so that these smaller organizations can take care of day-to-day stuff and focus on programming. It fits with our mandate to provide meaningful opportunities for people to engage in their past.”
The festival is an opportunity for people to learn more about their community from informed organizers, like Tim Marriott, a local historian running the McCauley Church Street tour.
“He’s a font of knowledge,” enthused O’Grady.
Edmonton is a special city with an interesting history.
“One of the unique parts of Edmonton is its modern architecture. We’re so tied to a boom and bust economy. We tear things down and build, build, build. We’ve got these wonderful modern buildings, like the Queen Elizabeth Planetarium.”
The planetarium, built in 1960, is located in Coronation Park and closed in 1983. O’Grady said it’s important not to assume our unique buildings will always be there because another boom may mean those buildings get demolished.
Locally, an interesting way to learn about the past is by taking the walking tour of Beechmount Cemetery on 124 Ave and 104 St.
“I think there’s a military section and a pretty big Muslim section. It was established in 1914 and is quite a diverse cemetery. It’s an opportunity to talk about pioneer and immigrant communities in those early days.”
Or, check out the Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre’s open house, which includes tours, exhibits, and interpretations. The open house covers the building’s history, the Telephone Historical Centre, and the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum. Due to construction, there is no behind-the-scenes tours of the building this year.
“The good thing about the Telephone Historical Centre is that you can touch things as well. It’s good for kids,” said O’Grady. He explained the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum is good for older kids or anyone who’s interested in military history.
Other local events include the festival kickoff at Highlands Golf Club, the Alberta Aviation Museum, McCauley’s Church Street tour, the Girl Guides of Canada Alberta Council Archives and Museum, and the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation.
“Edmonton is always surprising you, something is always going on,” said O’Grady. “I think that people can expect to learn something for sure without spending much money.”
HISTORIC FESTIVAL & DOORS OPEN EDMONTON
Featured Image: The festival will highlight some of Edmonton’s unique organizations and history, like the Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre (pictured). | Tim O’Grady