The history of Fort Edmonton Park is very much tied to Edmonton and area Rotary clubs.
It is entirely conceivable that if it were not for the Rotary Club Fort Edmonton Park would not exist.
The significance of Rotary to Fort Edmonton Park:
- The Fort Edmonton Foundation’s affiliation with the Edmonton Rotary Club goes back to the Foundation’s very inception. Samuel Dickson, Q.C., an Edmonton lawyer, organized the Rotary Club of Edmonton in 1916. It was he, as part of a delegation made up of Northern Alberta Pioneers and members of the Old Timers Association, who in 1948, approached Premier Manning with the idea of reconstructing the original Fort Edmonton.
- Although the concept of Fort Edmonton Park was conceived in 1948, it wasn’t until the Edmonton Rotary Club was looking for a Centennial project in 1966 that the idea came to fruition.
- In 1967, Merrill Wolfe, President of the Rotary Club of Edmonton and Henry Ward, also with the Rotary Club of Edmonton, demonstrated their enthusiasm for the Fort Edmonton project by authorizing a $40,000 pledge on behalf of the club and gathering $20,000 worth of support from other local Rotary clubs, including South Edmonton, West Edmonton, and Northeast Edmonton. These pledges provided enough capital for the clubs to commence with the project on the site provided by the City of Edmonton. Soon after, the Edmonton Rotary Club donated another $75,000, which enabled them to erect the palisades and bastions.
- On July 9, 1967, Samuel Dickson unveiled the Rotary Sign during the Fort Edmonton Park dedication ceremony.
- Under the direction of Merrill Wolfe and Henry Ward, the Fort Edmonton committee of the Edmonton Rotary Club remained the driving force behind the development of the Park until 1969. Towards the end of that year, seven men met to discuss the future of the leadership of Fort Edmonton Park. It was the birthdate of the Fort Edmonton Foundation. Original members of the foundation were John A. Beckingham, Raymond Ludford, James G. MacGregor, H. Stan Ragan, J. Newton Shortliffe, Henry G. Ward, and Merrill. E. Wolfe.
- After the Fort Edmonton Foundation was formed, the Edmonton Rotary Club continued to play an integral role in the development of the park.
- In 1970, the Rotary Club of South Edmonton initiated the moving and restoration of the Henderson Farm. The barn was moved onto the site from Rabbit Hill Road. Later the farmhouse was replicated in the Park.
- The ceremonial opening of the Park took place on May 17, 1994.
- In 1974, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker hosted a luncheon in the Rowand House. Among other dignitaries in attendance was William Carter of London, England, president of Rotary International. After the luncheon, he and Ken Fort, Rotary district governor, visited the bronze marker that is installed on the palisades that pay tribute to the major role Rotarians have played in the development of the Park.
- On October 20, 1974, the South Edmonton Rotary Club held a Threshing Bee in the Field near the Fort. Ottie Toan, a retired local farmer, heard about the project and offered to operate his antique threshing equipment at the event. The club took him up on his offer and he thrilled the crowds with his demonstration of old-time harvesting methods. The event was such a huge success, that it became a much-anticipated fall ritual for many Edmontonians. Jack Edworthiy, committee chair, asked Ottie why he was not a Rotarian. Ottie replied, “Nobody asked me!” Ottie was soon after inducted into a Club. He remained a dedicated Rotarian and participant in the harvest festival for the remainder of his life.
- Various local branches of the Rotary Club have continued to stay involved with Fort Edmonton Park, sharing the founders’ dream of honouring, celebrating, and preserving the pioneer courage and entrepreneurial spirit that built Edmonton. As Samuel A. Dickson once said, “It will be the finest park in the West or anywhere.”
- On the riverbank between the Fort and the York Boat Landing, sit five bronze figures: a york boat, a voyageur, a red river cart, an Indian, and a trader. Nearby are 4 bronze plaques that honour those individuals who have been instrumental in keeping the vision of the Fort Edmonton Foundation alive.
- The fourth plaque reads as follows:
Samuel A. Dickson and Henry G Ward, through their enthusiasm, inspired the Fort Edmonton Park Committee of the Rotary Clubs of Edmonton, and the founding board of the Fort Edmonton Historical Foundation, which included:
John A. Beckingham, Ray Ludford, James G. MacGregor, H. Stan Ragan, Henry G. Ward, J. Newton Shorliffe, Merrill E. Wolfe
There are several plaques situated around Fort Edmonton Park that honour the contribution made by Edmonton Rotary clubs. One such plaque is at the Partner’s Gate at the entrance to the park. It is one of three that have been installed into a portion of the Donor Wall. It sits alongside another honouring the Fort Edmonton Foundation, and another honouring the City of Edmonton, paying tribute to the three entities that have been key to the development of the Park.View All