Fort Edmonton Park will be reopening to the public the same day Alberta begins Stage 3 of its reopening plan.
The popular attraction, located in southwest Edmonton, has been shut for nearly three years to undergo a $165-million-upgrade. The park's long-awaited reopening will happen Thursday, coinciding with the loosening of most provincial public health restrictions.
"It feels like we finally arrived after a long, long period of work and creativity and ups and downs but we are finally here today," said Darren Dalgleish, president and CEO of Fort Edmonton Management Company, while on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.
Construction at the park began in fall 2018. Some rental events and weddings had to shut in 2020 due to construction, but the pandemic put an end to all rental events and the park's annual Halloween event.
LISTEN | Fort Edmonton Park Reopens:
As of Thursday, park visitors will be greeted with a new front entry plaza. They can then board a 1919 steam engine train that will transport them through the park, that now features new attractions at the Johnny J. Jones Exposition and a brand new Indigenous Peoples Experience exhibit.
The exhibit is the biggest addition to the park and is meant to give visitors an opportunity to learn about First Nations and Métis peoples.
The northern lights dancing along the walls, the rumble of a bison herd going by, and animations projected onto tipis depicting oral stories told by elders are among the sounds and lighting that shift as one peruses through the exhibit.
Visitors will also see tools, clothing, and animals that explain the Indigenous guiding principles of the 13 Moons, the traditional Indigenous calendar. It also includes a Métis cabin and a theatre-like space that tells the history of residential schools and outlines the 94 Calls to Action.
"First time I walked through it, I was just in awe," said Vernon Watchmaker, grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations.
"This is a good thing moving forward."
Watchmaker is looking forward to people experiencing the First Nation and Métis content. The space is a good starting point to create awareness for non-Indigenous people and will provide an experience many Indigenous people haven't had the opportunity to do.
LISTEN | Treaty 6 Grand Chief on new Fort Edmonton Park
The park also expanded its 1920s midway which features carnival rides, including a new giant ferris wheel, and the familiar old-timey buildings that such as the Capitol cinema, drug store, bank and bazaar.
The upgrades to Fort Edmonton Park required money from the three levels of government, as well as the Fort Edmonton Foundation. In January, city council approved a $1.7 million loan to park to help it reopen.
Fort Edmonton hopes to return the money over the next two years, said Dalgleish,