The Edmonton House Brigade is a Living History reenactment group. Its members have chosen to bring back to life the days of the great fur brigades in western Canada at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries.
Visitors entering the Brigade camp might have stepped back in time. They can watch authentically dressed fur traders lighting fires with flint and steel or cleaning and tuning flintlock trade muskets. Brigade members cook their meals in tin, cast iron or copper kettles over an open fire and, at the end of the day, they blow out their candles, roll into their woollen Whitney blankets and go to sleep in their canvas tents.
Brigade enthusiasts spend years researching and documenting authentic clothing, guns and equipment. They then spend more time carefully building and hand-making the things they need. Over the years they’ve developed skills as gunsmiths, carpenters, hornsmiths, blacksmiths, leatherworkers, beadworkers and tailors. One member of the brigade has a full set of 18th century medical instuments, but visitors shouldn’t ask about them unless they have a very strong stomach! Members are also proficient in the safe handling of flintlock, muzzleloading guns.
Most members of the Brigade come from the Edmonton area, and so they chose to take the name of the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post which eventually grew into the city of Edmonton. While they have a close affiliation with Fort Edmonton Park, the Brigade has set up their period camp, and given public demonstrations, at various Provincial and National historic sites throughout Alberta, as well as in Ontario and Minnesota.
While showing people what fur traders really looked like is an important role for the Brigade they are not just ‘fair-weather’ enthusiasts; they also camp through the winter. Winter camps are smaller, private affairs. The idea is for the members of the Brigade to be able to field test their equipment under real conditions and to be able to experience, first hand, what it felt like to be living as an hivernant ‘back then’.
The early history of western Canada was the fur trade. Yet it is surprising how many Canadians know little or nothing abou this part of their own history. Worse, many Canadians confuse their history with that of the American west. If you are expecting the Hollywood image of rough frontiersmen with thick busy beards, fringed buckskin clothing and coonskin hats, then the Edmonton House Brigade has a big surprise in store for you!