History comes to life at Canada’s largest living history museum, Heritage Park. It’s an immersive experience and tons of fun for the whole family. Visiting is absolutely a must-do when exploring Calgary. And make sure to set aside a full day for this adventure as there is so much to do and see!
Disclosure: A huge thank you to Heritage Park for partnering on our visit. As always, all opinions are honest and our own.
As a kid, Heritage Park was my absolute favorite place to visit in Calgary. Anytime we had a free weekend, I was begging to go! Between the midway rides, the reenactors in period costumes, and the fun treats, there was nowhere better to be.
Now, (more than!) twenty years later, I was excited to bring back my children and see if Heritage Park still lived up to the hype or if it was one of those cases where the nostalgic memories were better than the current experience. And without a doubt, it is still as fantastic as ever.
Heritage Park is located just 15 minutes south of downtown Calgary and only 45 minutes from the airport. Nestled on 127 acres near the Glenmore Reservoir, the park explores the history of the Canadian west. Visiting truly is like stepping back in time.
We started the day at the brand new Innovation Crossing building. Here, the STORYSEEKER exhibit helps guests learn about Canada’s energy history, as well as about different artifacts housed within the park. It’s one of the few buildings with air conditioning, making it a great place to check out on a hot afternoon.
And then we headed outside to explore! Much of Heritage Park is outside, so make sure to dress accordingly and pack sunscreen, especially during the height of the summer season.
At Heritage Park, you can explore Western Canada‘s history from the 1860s to the 1950s. The park is broken into sections focusing on different time periods.
- Heritage Square, technically outside the park (so you can visit without paying admission), focuses on the 1930-1950s.
- Prospect Ridge explores Western Canada’s Natural Resources from the 1880s-1930s.
- At The Settlement, you’ll find the 1860s-1880s fur trading fort and First Nations Encampment.
- The Ranch is an early 1900s pre-railway settlement.
- The Village Centre is a c. 1910 Prairie Railway Town, and the nearby Antique Midway, with rides and games, is from the same period.
The historical reenactors, dressed in period costumes (of which the park has 13,000!), are what make Heritage Park so unique. Yes, it’s fun to walk around and look through the historic buildings, but the reenactors truly bring history to life.
I have fond memories of playing on the Railway Playground when I was younger. We didn’t take the time to play on this visit – mainly because there’s so much to see and do at Heritage Park. But it’s nice to know there’s somewhere that the little ones can run around and play while visiting.
Heritage Park Midway Rides
As a kid, my absolute favorite part of Heritage Park was the midway rides. No, they’re not the big thrill rides you will find in today’s amusement parks, but they will still put a smile on your face! And the midway rides are included in the price of admission to Heritage Park Historical Village!
The Bowness Carousel was a gift from the City of Calgary in the 1980s, though it was initially built in 1904. Unlike traditional carousels, where the horses go up and down, the horses on the Bowness Carousel go back and forth.
Common in a traveling amusement park in the early 1900s, Heritage Park also has a Ferris wheel. Technically, they have two – one for the youngest visitors and one that’s open to people of all ages.
With the summer heat, sno-kones from the Midway Treatery are a must! One of the things that I appreciate most about Heritage Park is that the prices are very reasonable.
The park has the cutest Children’s Boat Swings! Built about 100 years ago in what was then known as Czechoslovakia, they were donated to Heritage Park in the 1980s.
Lunch at Heritage Park
We opted to have lunch at the Wainwright Hotel – partly as a break from the intense heat (close to 40º C – nearly 100º F), but also because I’ve heard great things about the menu! You definitely HAVE to get the pickle fries – they were absolutely delicious, with a bit of a kick. The Wainwright Hotel has quite a few choices on the kids’ menu and even has an option to swap the fries for fresh fruit!
If you know anything about Ben, you know that if tacos are on the menu, he WILL order them! Nick went more traditional with the Sausage and Perogies entree, and both choices were delicious!
Ellie was excited that her lunch included a chocolate chip cookie from Alberta Bakery (located inside the park). We got it to go, and she enjoyed it as we continued walking around.
Exploring the Historical Village
One of my favorite parts about Heritage Park is how educational the whole experience can be. As a child, I wasn’t really aware that I was learning when we visited, but as an adult, it’s easy to see how educational the visits with the reenactors actually are. These people are the real deal, and they know what they’re talking about. Many have worked in the park for decades, and they are all well-versed in the history of the Canadian west.
We’ve seen printing presses MANY times but usually in the context of printing a book. Ever the curious one, Ben asked how they go about printing different images in a weekly newspaper because it’s not the same image over and over (like in a book). They took the time to explain how they printed images wayyyyy back in the day, and we learned all about acid relief.
We also learned about the Linotype machine. Rather than setting individual letters, this machine allowed you to set entire lines of type, drastically speeding up the typesetting process.
The historical reenactors at Heritage Park go above and beyond. While they all have their usual lines about their location, they could also answer every question we asked. And trust me, my kids can ask the most random questions! Like meeting Disney characters, you get out of the experience what you put in. If you ask questions and are involved in the conversation, you will learn SO much more.
Isn’t Heritage Park just the cutest?!
Front Street has a row of shops, including Gledhill’s Drugstore, the Claresholm General Store, and the Vulcan Ice Cream Parlour. All of the shops are open for perusing or actual shopping, and historical reenactors staff them.
As work ramped up on the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s, Chinese immigrants arrived in droves to work the rails. Once the railway was complete, these immigrants, mainly men – and numbering over 17,000, couldn’t afford to return home to China.
Many opened up businesses in western Canada, mostly grocery stores, laundries, and cafes. The Club Cafe is a recreation of a typical Chinese cafe in southern Alberta, and interestingly, “Club Cafe” was the most common name for Chinese cafes in Alberta!
These Chinese cafes didn’t actually serve Chinese food. Instead, they served a western menu at a low price point and were an institution across the Canadian Prairies! We split a slice of local Saskatoon pie at the Club Cafe at Heritage Park! Yum!
I love how the people in the shops are actually working on their craft. At Flett’s Blacksmith Shop, two different blacksmiths were busy creating when we visited, and they put on quite a show. They stopped to answer our (many!) questions and then got back to their work.
Ellie wanted to spend all afternoon watching the horses out on the farm. She called and called and called but couldn’t get them to come over to her.
The grounds of Heritage Park are just beautiful. Watching Ellie skip down tree-lined paths was a glimpse at what life would have been like in the 1900s. It is such a fun place to explore, and I love that you can let the kids have some free reign to wander a bit.
We stopped in at Drew’s Saloon for a round of drinks. The Saloon is open to visitors of all ages and does serve beer/cider in addition to the sodas the kids picked out.
And the kids even learned how to play poker! Drew’s Saloon was stocked with decks of cards and sheets explaining different hands – perfect for the youngest gambler!
While so much of Calgary has changed since I lived there in the 1990s, at Heritage Park, time continues to stand still. Walking through the gates brought me back to the turn of the century (1900s) in Calgary, as well as back to my own childhood.
Heritage Park has the ability to magically transport you back in time to the days when life was simpler. And if you’re planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies, you should definitely make time to visit Heritage Park, too.
TIPS & TRICKS FOR VISITING HERITAGE PARK CALGARY
- Double-check the park hours with Heritage Park. While Heritage Park Towne Square is open year-round, the historical village is not. The Historical Village is open daily during the summer, but it switches to weekends only from September through November.
- Also, check the schedule if you’re interested in riding the steam train or the S.S. Moyie – the paddle-wheeler on Glenmore Reservoir.
- Bring cash for the midway games! They’re only $2CAD, and you’re almost guaranteed to win a prize!
- Make sure to bring sunscreen since much of the park is outdoors. It was super hot when we visited, and the kids said we should have brought the fans we take with us to Disney!
- Plan to spend the whole day exploring. We were there from park opening until park closing (10am-5pm) and didn’t have enough time to see and do everything!
Do you like living history museums? Have you ever visited Heritage Park??