Monday, 27 August 2007

Fort Steele

(a bear on the road to Fort Steele)

I have always had a fondness for old things,( no, Katherine and Samantha I am not referring to Alan there, but ha ha ha cuz I know that's what you were thinking) so it only makes sense that I would love Fort Steele. (love, love, love, I want to live there) We are not big on touristy-type things in our family. I loathe any kind of attraction that seems to be all about taking your money for admission and then squeezing out every last penny that they can, trying to get you to buy plastic trinket souvenirs, before you leave their site. We also don't like huge crowds of people so we tend to avoid most attractions other than museums and aquariums. However, when we first went to Fort Steele two years ago I knew immediately that it would be a favourite and that we would return as often as possible. I loved seeing everyone in costume, playing their part, and staying in character. The first thing I like about it is that you can simply buy a Steele of a Deal pass and then you are able to enjoy all the things that they have to offer including a ride on the steam engine, a ride on a horse drawn cart, and an excellent musical comedy show in the old Wild Horse Theatre.
As you wander through the town site you will be witness to many hilarious and historically informative little skits put on by costumed actors portraying real life characters, who lived in the town over a hundred years ago, by the end of the day you feel as though you know these people and have been a part of a typical day in their life. You can visit the blacksmith and he may make you a nail, you can visit Mrs. Clark at the Lambi house and help her make ice cream which you will then get to eat.
(if you want ice-cream you have to work for it and first you will need to break up the ice. Stand back!)
You can watch a tinsmith or a harness maker or see how farming was done in the past. It is just simply a wonderful experience and you feel (well at least I do) as if you have travelled back in time to 1864. Whenever the boys and I are reading history books and we've just read about another war or about another greedy ruler taking over another land I often think what about the regular everyday sort of stuff, the food, the homes, that's what I want to know, and being at Fort Steele is like watching, and taking part in, that everyday sort of stuff in history.

The second thing I like about it is how amazingly friendly everyone that works there is. It makes me wonder if Ft. Steele makes a concerted effort to only hire super friendly people because that is part of their attraction or if the people they hire just so thoroughly enjoy working in such a beautiful setting that it makes them happier and friendlier. Let me give you an example. We decided that we would go Sunday if, as the signs around our campground said, they were having a special showing of the film The Grey Fox, which tells the story of Billy Miner and was filmed in part at Fort Steele, otherwise we would just wait 'til Monday when there might be less people. I had checked their website before we left and it had said that it was cancelled for Sunday night. When my husband saw the sign that said the film was on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night we thought we were in luck so he phoned on Sunday morning to check and was told that it would be showing. When we arrived there at the site they said that yes it was showing and we could buy our tickets at the theatre after dinner. We enjoyed our day immensely then later went to buy our tickets and were told (by an upset lady in full costume) that there was a mix-up and it had been cancelled but she hadn't been told and so had been telling customers all day that it was still on. She had just sent someone to check at the theatre to see if they could still run the film and would let us know. We wandered around the grounds and enjoyed having them all to ourselves and then checked at the theatre to see what was happening. The man from the mercantile told us that they were going to run it, the manager thought that she would be able to run the projector and so we hung out a bit more and then came back for the show which was to start at 7pm. We paid for our tickets ( they let the kids in for half price) and then headed up to the balcony where there was only one other couple. The manager came out and told us to enjoy the show and seemed to be talking directly to us in the balcony. We looked down and realized that they were running the film for our family and the other couple. I felt so badly that we were keeping the store keeper and his wife and the site manager from their evenings. W ran down to use the bathroom before the show started and came back up with two bags of free popcorn that they had given him. The film was really interesting and a far better way to learn a little about Billy Miner and some B.C history than the way I learned about him in school.
The next morning we went back ( the Steele of a Deal pass includes 2 days entrance to the park) so that I could thank them (and so that the boys could make ice cream again). I went to the Mercantile to tell the store keeper how sorry we were for keeping them there last night but how much we appreciated it. He is a wonderfully, friendly man who has been at Fort Steele for ages. I also bought some of his tea because it smelled so good, there were all kinds of loose tea in glass jars. Everything in the store fits in with this time in history and the packaging is either glass, tin, paper or nothing. I bought some huckleberry tea that smells divine and some Buckingham Palace Garden Party tea because I have heard it is good.(Thanks Mary-Sue)
(E grabbing me as I come out of the store, does he think I have candy sticks?)
Afterwards I sat in the garden at the Lambi house and watched Mrs. Clark gently tease the kids about their holey shoes (crocs) as they took turns cranking the ice cream. She said that in Fort Steele when they have holes in their shoes they get them fixed, and that only poor people have holey shoes. She also asked them about the "jewellery" that they all had in their holey shoes, this is something I hadn't noticed before ( I don't get out much, I guess). Did you know that there is an overwhelming trend to have crocs and then to buy little plastic decorative bits to put in them? (O.K, I won't go there, no ranting allowed, this is a happy, peaceful, Fort Steele-lovin' post, not a grumpy, anti-consumer culture, herd-of-sheep post....I'll save that for later ;-O ) She also asked them about their chores and told them about all the chores her kids have to do (it being the 1800s). The kids delighted in trying to explain to her what a car was, what a dishwasher does,or what kitty litter is, and I have to say that there seemed to be a serious lack of chores being done by all the kids. Some of the kids, when asked what their chores were, would say reading. Can you imagine? My boys couldn't believe it.

I think the thing I love most about being there is just the feeling that I get when I am there. The location is beautiful, you are surrounded by the Rocky mountains while still having an open feeling that you get in the Rocky Mountain trench. I so enjoy being in a place that has no plastic crap, no signs of being in this time of a consumer culture. There are simple houses that hold simple, useful and beautiful things. There are simple gardens filled with useful edibles and herbs as well as beautiful flowers. There are chicken coops in the backyards, alongside outhouses . There is the impression of people living simple lives, doing chores, eating simple healthy food that they grow or raise. I love it, it is the way I want to live and I feel very at home there. I'm not totally romanticizing it, I know that there were difficult times and sicknesses but there is now too. I know that I would miss hot water that just comes right out of a tap if I lived in that time but I actually don't think I would miss a lot else. My husband thinks that we would miss electricity, most especially a fridge...and maybe he is right, but look at this gorgeous ice box.

I'm thinking that if I can't actually live there I would at least like to work there. I know how to make hand-churned ice cream and I like the costumes. I can be friendly...sometimes. I'm totally qualified. :-) W thinks he would like to be part of the group of actors or possibly a blacksmith and E wants to work at the candy shop so it could be a family affair. I don't think hubby will be able to get a job there though because the one time I left him alone with the boys at the courthouse for five measly minutes he got thrown in jail for stealing potatoes. I imagine now that he has a record and that Constable Barnes will run him outta town if he returns. Pity.
Now I should mention the candy store because I reckon that no trip to Fort Steele is complete without it. When we were on our way to Fort Steele W said that he wanted to go to the candy store, and I said that the candy store wasn't the main reason we go there. (aren't I mean? I know, I know, but we don't do a lot of candy in our house and so I just wanted to make sure he knew we weren't going to be buying tons of sugary junk) So our conversation went something like this.

W - they sell candy for so cheap though
Nasty Mom - not really, you just never buy candy so you don't really know the prices, their prices are probably about the same as anywhere that sells candy
W - they have that salt water taffy there though
NM - you can buy that in lots of places, I've seen it at save-on and in the bulk store
W - But they have lots of flavours of it
NM - you're not convincing me, if you want to get someone to agree with your way of thinking then you need to think about the person you are trying to convince and give some reasons that would be compelling to them to win them over to your way of thinking

-----barely a second pause----
W - We like Fort Steele and want to support them, I should buy salt water taffy from their candy store to support them so Fort Steele stays open. Much better for me to buy taffy from them than to buy from big corporation Save-on and support rich-guy Jimmy Pattison
NM - you got me, I'm convinced!!

Does my kid know me or what?
Eeep! I was going to tell you about our whole holiday, not just one day, but this is too long already.


Nicola said...

Love it Heather - you have a great way of telling a story! I was just looking at the map last night because R and L might be going to Cranbrook to work (just for one day)! It's a long drive, but I happened to see Fort Steele on the map and I want to go there too!!!

Fantastic Five said...

Okay, now we have to go! It sounds great! I think maybe you could be part of the marketing team as well. How could anyone not want to go after reading this? Thanks for sharing your story.


hornblower said...

Oh man, it sounds so nice..... My only problem is that I hate, hate, hate long car trips. I am trying to get over this as the kids are entering prime ages for travelling around to places like that, & dh has been making noises about driving out to Drumheller (which would tie in nicely with this) but jeez, I look at a map and calculate the hours and just blanch.

Dh & I are trying to compromise by seeing if we can map out some trips & intentionally plan to stop for the day after 4-5h of driving each day. It does mean we wouldn't get to places very fast & can also ramp up the costs but I think after 20+ years together, he's finally figured out how miserable these long car trips make me. (vomiting out of windows & threatening to throw myself out of the car & down the Fraser Canyon, or to lie down in front of the first 18 wheeler if we didn't stop, stop, for heaven's sake, just find a place to stop already - I think that might have helped too)

Katherine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katherine said...

Seems I'm having trouble spelling today - which is why I had to delete my first comment, Heather.
(I guess I better keep things less wordy to reduce the risk of typos...)
Ft. Steele sounds like a great place to visit. You could sooooo work there. Maybe you could be set up showing them all how to can all the lovely produce from the gardens?
Smart W for knowing the right words to convince you to get the candy. Hmmmm. Maybe he has a promising career in politics in his future? ;o)

Heather said...

Hi Hornblower
I can see that the vomiting thing would put a damper on vacation adventures. I wonder if you driving as opposed to being a passenger would help. My husband suffers from motion sickness quite badly (even feels sick on the ferry to Vancouver Island or while snorkelling and cannot even think about riding in the back of a car without feeling sick) but he seems to be alright when he is driving (although maybe that is a ploy that he uses so that he always gets to drive).
He recently starting using these motion-sickness-stick-behind-the-ear-the-day-before-the-trip type patches that he gets at the drugstore. He was able to fly to Mexico and spend a few days on a boat without any vomit, just a bit queasy at first. Two months ago he rode, in the backseat, down the Fraser Canyon, stopped to river raft, flew out of Vancouver to Queen Charlotte, rode a helicopter to a lodge and then spend the better part of three days on a boat and did not barf once. Amazing. He thinks that they are magic. I am pleased that I will now have a snorkel partner too. Maybe they would work for you?
Drumheller is so worth the trip and when we went we did go through that route - past the giant dumptruck in Sparwood and past Frank slide to Brooks to stay at Dinosaur Provincial park. The landscape is so amazing at the campground, when you enter it is like driving down into this weird, impossible to describe (for me, anyway) land, you can actually go out on "educational-type" digs, etc. Royal Tyrrell museum is fantastic (as in you need the whole day to wander around in awe sort of fantastic).

Maybe in order to keep the costs down you could combine a meet some other homelearners type thing with the trip and see if you could crash at the homes of other homelearners? We have a spare room and also a hide-a-bed or a travel trailer in the driveway. ;-)