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Uniquely Canadian

The Restoration of Colonist Car 1202

July 5, 2017

“Of course we did not have the money to travel in style,” recalls Ontario-born John Diefenbaker in his memoir. Eight years old, he climbed aboard aYoung John Diefenbaker CPR colonist car in 1903, migrating west with his family.

“We were to travel colonist class, a very basic third-class accommodation used mainly for transporting immigrants to the prairies. Realizing that there would be no sleeping accommodation and no meals served, mother prepared and carefully packed lunches to carry us through to Winnipeg, and put together two rolls of quilts, blankets and pillows.”

The CPR misplaced their provisions, forcing the family to rely on the kindness of strangers. Diefenbaker arrived in Winnipeg, nonetheless, and journeyed halfway up the Edmonton wagon route to where his father, a teacher, had been offered a job in Fort Carlton, Saskatchewan. Within three years of their arrival, they claimed a quarter section of prairie farmland under the Dominion Lands Act and broke 10 acres of grass to plant their first crop.

John Diefenbaker would eventually travel in style. In 1957 he became the thirteenth Prime Minister of Canada. But aboard the colonist sleeping car – a 72-seat vehicle to a new home, a better life and the fulfillment of dreams – his unique story intersects with millions of others.

Journey of a Lifetime, an exhibit and performance

Railway Roundhouse - work in progressHeritage Park is preserving these stories along with Colonist Car 1202. Now, you can drop by the Roundhouse to see the ongoing restoration of this iconic Canadian artifact, the older of only two still in existence.

And while the coach is being restored, the stories of colonist car passengers are retold through Journey of a Lifetime. Daily until July 16, 2017 in the Railway Car Shop and Canmore Opera House, experience a new exhibit and a theatrical performance!

The live dramatic performance onstage in the Opera House follows courageous and hopeful immigrants through eastern Canadian ports onto a colonist train, crossing Canada in 1910. The Car Shop exhibit, through text, photos and video, also conveys the story of western migration, putting visitors aboard a colonist car simulation, and providing an opportunity to record and share their own immigration stories.

The launch of a Journey

West BoundFor those who experience Journey of a Lifetime, parallels seamlessly emerge between migrants during Canada’s largest wave of immigration in the early 1900s and immigrants today. Given this timely relevance, and the importance of preserving our history, Heritage Park is sharing the regional history of Western Canada with the country during the nation’s 150th anniversary.

In the Fall of 2017, the Journey of a Lifetime exhibit and play departs Calgary in preparation for a trans-continental voyage, tracing the westward progress of immigrants from Halifax to Vancouver, with stops in six Canadian cities.

Until next time...

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