It began simply enough, as most bold ideas do. Two friends, travelling during the spring and summer as vendors at medieval faires, renaissance faires and street festivals, began to notice a common theme at all of the events they attended. Both ladies, each with a lifetime of experience working in other fields, were in a unique position to be able to see the events, and the people related to them, through a very broad lens. The people who visited stopped to chat, to share their interests, where they were from and what they enjoyed about the events. The re-enactors who entertained the visitors would often sit, share a meal and visit with each other after the gates closed for the evening. It was very much like a family, these groups of people who came together for a weekend and often shared a similar “circuit” throughout the year There was catching up to do, new skills to share, events that had occurred over the winter when they went back to their individual, common lives. Even organizers took time out of their hectic schedule to meet the newcomers to their events and to welcome those who had been attending for so long that they began to feel like family.
A single focused theme began to emerge.
Visitors came because they wanted to see something unique. They wanted to experience something different. The vendors offered things they could never find at home. Hand-crafted items made with care and skill, toys for their children that were not offered anywhere in a larger centre. They enjoyed having the ability to talk to the talented people who made things. They marvelled at the time and dedication of people who had researched and learned long-lost skills and practised trades and sports that were only ever seen in movies or in occasional television programs. Many of them drove long distances so that they could touch the shining armour, feel its weight in their hands and speak directly to the smith that made it. They could hear the clang of swords and watch men and women who had taught themselves how to use them. For a brief moment, they could be in another place and another time. Many expressed an appreciation of the time it took to master these skills. Many more expressed a desire to learn for themselves. Unfortunately, few places exist that can teach them. The few that do exist only focus on a single skill and are often cost-prohibitive.
The re-enactors came to the events because it allowed them the opportunity to live the lives they would have chosen for themselves if it weren’t for the constraints of modern life. It was not uncommon to hear them say that they”worked at a job we hate in order to afford the life we chose”. From vikings to medievalists, the winter was spent reading, researching and spending hours watching videos from artisans all over the world so that they could learn, practice and hone their chosen art. Many of the materials are ordered online from specialty merchants. Modern life is loathe to make room for the pieces of the past that many re-enactors need to be able to do even the simplest of things: make their clothes, find the right cloth or wool, get the ingredients for foods that have not been cooked in over 500 years.
For the most part, re-enactors are not isolationists …. most have often expressed a desire to be able to have a place that they could go to learn or practice their skills, to share them with other artisans or to teach them to other interested seekers. But there currently is no place for them. So they enjoy the times during the festival season when they can showcase what they have learned and plant the seed of curiosity in the hearts of the visitors who attend.
Event organizers are no less dedicated to what they are doing. Theirs is a labour of love. From Viking Festivals to Highland Games to Medieval Faires, the organizers do what they do because they are firm in their belief that the past, its rich history and its traditions, are worth preserving. They know that if they can offer a showcase for pieces of the past, people will come. But many of them mourn the end of the weekend. Many have fostered an idea for a permanent place for people to go so that they could experience history throughout the entire year. They are aware that the lives of their artisans and re-enactors are transient – setup, tear down, move on – setup, tear down, move on. If there was a place that could offer a more in-depth experience that would be a dream come true for many organizers. But the demands of modern life often push those dreams aside.
As clear as this theme appears, there was one vital piece of the puzzle that was missing: none of them shared these things with each other.
In fairness, one weekend is just not enough time to build great plans. Visitors come every year, but have only fleeting moments between demonstrations to ask their questions. Re-enactors are working and catching up with each other when they’re not sleeping or performing. Organizers are running non-stop managing everything from the main gate to making sure there’s paper in the washrooms. Conversations happen in concentrated moments. All too soon the season is over and everyone returns to their modern lives.
But two friends, with a lifetime of experience in sales, marketing, business and non-profit management, customer service and historical re-enactment can take all of this to a new level. With the luxury of knowing some of these people in their modern lives as well as their “preferred” lives and the benefit of experience, a vision becomes a plan. That plan is to build a place where people of all ages and abilities can come and experience a unique, hands-on learning opportunity in a fully immersive environment. Where they can put their hands on things, feel the heat of the forge, smell the wood fire ovens baking bread and spend as much time as they wish, asking questions of artisans who can take the time to give meaningful answers. Using other living history sites as a template, we can build a premier site that is more than a tourist attraction and more than an entertainment venue. We can build an educational site that would be unique in all of western Canada.
Formally founded in July of 2017, by Jen Silverhorse and Sandra Poxon, the
non-profit company, Alberta Medieval Settlement LTD arose from the synergistic fusion of of influences and ideas. Bringing together their experiences in hospitality, business management, sales and marketing, these two co-directors have assembled a wide range of expert stake-holders to help them develop every facet of the Settlement project. This advisory team includes a history professor at the University of Calgary who specializes in medieval England, an archaeologist from Mount Royal University, representatives of the Stonemason’s Union, builders, marketing specialists and educators to name just a few. One thing everyone on this advisory board shared was a love of history. The potential to build a permanent site in southern Alberta has gained wide support in tourism and educational sectors and is being viewed as a vehicle to add economic diversity and stability to some of the rural communities in the target area of Newell County.
We can build an adventure
Inspiration for Alberta Medieval Settlement