Volunteers and interpreters in each region of the park help to bring the history of Alberta and Edmonton alive. Nichol began volunteering at Fort Edmonton Park when she was five years old in the 1885 settlement and continued as a volunteer in the park throughout her childhood and teenage years. “I’m weirdly comfortable cooking on a wood stove,” she says. “I can even make homemade jam and bread from scratch. I learned those skills and I developed a passion for history while being a volunteer at Fort Edmonton Park.”
In hindsight, the renovation was done at the ideal time, causing the park to close during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The park’s permanent staff used the time to design a comprehensive COVID-19 response plan which has now been implemented.
“We are an outdoor open-air cultural attraction with lots of incredible outdoor spaces and that makes social distancing easier,” explains Renee Williams, Senior Vice-President of Fort Edmonton Management Company. “We’ve implemented customer flow measures to include timed entry to assist with managing the volume of guests in the park. Increased sanitization stations and advanced cleaning protocols also help to make our guests feel safe and comfortable.”
At the time the park opened, it was decided that park interpreters and volunteers would wear masks in indoor spaces – despite the provincial government’s relaxation of its mask mandate.
“Everything we do at Fort Edmonton Park revolves around being authentic, collaborative and experiential and masks aren’t historically accurate,” Nichol explains. “We decided to go with plain black masks, because we thought that would be the least distracting. We want our guests to feel as if they’ve really stepped back in time, but we also want to keep our guests, volunteers, and staff safe.”
The pandemic also altered the way interpretive programs are carried out in the park. For the time being, volunteers are not preparing and cooking food in historical homes in the park as they have in the past. Nichol hopes that eventually they can return to making bread and jam in the kitchens as families of those times would have done.
“I love the smell of fresh bread baking in a wood stove when you walk into a heritage home at Fort Edmonton Park,” Nichol says. “Everything we do at the park is designed to be authentic and experiential. We’ve adapted our operations to keep guests safe, but we’ve stayed true to our core values.”
Each visit to Fort Edmonton Park is special and unique – regardless of when you visit. With so many different park interpreters and volunteers bringing their own life experiences and talents to their roles, there’s an opportunity to discover something new every day.