ust East of this beautiful, capital city, with its many sky-scrapers and fascinating modern architecture, you’ll find a replica of an early Nineteenth Century town, which enables visitors to see the beginnings of Edmonton. The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Center is not just for those with Ukrainian ancestry. In this walk through history you’ll find yourself in a village with authentic buildings, moved here from other parts of Alberta, which reconstruct the early days of Edmonton and Alberta because it was largely Ukrainian immigrants who settled this area.
In Europe in the late 1800’s the Austro-Hungarian Empire was powerful, and the Ukrane peasants were under its control. When serfdom and servitude of the feudal system were abolished peasants were reduced to a status similar to tenant farmers because the land was still owned by the lords, and the commoners had to pay exorbitant taxes, which kept them in poverty and near starvation. In the early 1800’s Canada was offering 160 acres free land to settlers for just $10 claimers’ fee. Bulletins about this were distributed widely in the Ukrane. Within a few years, over a quarter million Ukrainians emigrated to Canada by boat, took trains across Canada, and discovered the wonderful, free land they could claim as their own. Families and friends settled near each other and helped build villages and towns, which grew to become Edmonton.
When they first arrived, these early settlers found incredibly thick forests. They had brought few tools and had to learn how to do many tasks they had no skills for. Their first homes were made of sod houses until land could be cleared and more permanent and hospitable homes built. Gradually they constructed log homes.
In the Heritage Center you can immerse yourself in the life of these settlers, from 1892-1930. Visit the Provincial Policeman’s home, which served also as the Police Station and had a holding cell for a small jail. You can “shop” at the General Store for necessities at 1929 prices. Farmers planting crops by hand, the grain elevator at the railroad station, workers in the sawmill, wives tending their gardens or cooking on wood stoves will greet you and show you their way of life. You can visit an early, simple church of Greek Orthodoxy, and a later one, which is more elaborate. The beautiful hand-dyed colors of the weavings and embroidery in the homes and churches will astonish you. How did these early settlers have the time and energy to create things of beauty when life’s tasks were so demanding? Yet these arts of the Old World were preserved and taught to children and grandchildren.
In the Gift Shop you can purchase many Ukrainian arts and crafts, including the famous hand-painted Ukranian eggs. They even teach lessons, if you are interested.
WEST EDMONTON MALL is famous as the largest in the world. You’ll not want to miss it, even if you are not a shopper. Among the hundreds of stores it has a water park, a dolphin tank, beautiful aquaria, fun children’s rides and play areas, a pirate ship, and theaters. The Play Station area has an incredible movie theater with gigantic models of favorite characters like Yoda, Batman, monsters, and an enormous dragon, which roars and moves. These are in the ceiling to entertain you while you wait in line for tickets. If you have very small children, better keep their eyes low! We had hoped to spend the day shopping, but the mall is so overwhelming and noisy, and we didn’t wear good walking shoes….a MUST!
The Alberta Provencial Capitol building is stately and the grounds compose a beautiful park and gardens open to the public. We were astonished to see hundreds of people, including families with children, on Sundays and national holidays swimming in the enormous fountain pool in front of the capitol and enjoying picnics on the grounds!
Just behind the capitol we had a leisurely walk across the Old Bridge spanning the North Saskatchewan River. It is one way, for cars leaving the city. There are separate walking paths on both sides with great views. Youngsters were riding bikes and skating across on the designated walkway also. Beside the river below are huge gree lawns and playing fields for soccer and a public golf course.
We enjoyed our stay at Kinsmen Local Park where we found a pretty RV park and many sports playing fields. A paved path through the woods stretched for scores of miles beside a small river. It is enjoyed all year long on bikes, skates, skis, and many other means of exercize for families and individuals. This is a city that loves the out of doors!