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Remington Carriage Museum: Refreshing Blast from the Past

Copyright (c) 2007-2021 Travel Alberta, All Rights Reserved
Written by:

Travel where I grew up was built on fast cars and overpasses. Highways drew people in and out of the downtown core from morning to night, the city breathing rapidly, never shutting its eyes to sleep. The only horses I saw were on TV.

So when I had the opportunity to tour the Remington Carriage Museum, a short drive beyond the city of Calgary to a town in Alberta's south, I have to admit: just the thought of it made me snore.

Horse drawn carriages? Yawn. Or so I thought, anyway.

But I got a startling wake-up call. The Remington Carriage Museum was a blast. It delivered far more than I expected. It opened my eyes to life before cars, a world where my great-grandparents waited for the horse-drawn ice wagon to roll along rickety roads, bringing cool refreshment during sweltering summer days.

My wife Jackie and I took in the museum on the way back from our trip to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, as a side trip. We're glad we did. It was a hot afternoon and the museum tour provided a welcome adventure and respite from the road.


Awarded 'Best Indoor Attraction in Canada'

Alberta is home to one of the country's best-kept secrets when it comes to tourism attractions. In a nationwide contest, Attractions Canada awarded the 'Best Indoor Attraction in Canada' title to the Remington Carriage Museum. Not only is touring the Museum an adventure, it also represents a chance to travel back in history and see what life was really like in the 19th century.

How many places can deliver that kind of experience?

Nestled in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, the Museum has built an international reputation by housing North America's largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles. We're talking carriages, carts, sleighs and wagons here – and lots of 'em. More than 225 vehicles in total, if you're keeping count.

Fortunately, it's easy to get to from Calgary. The Museum provides a perfect destination for travellers who are looking for a side trip during any season.

And while you may not have an eager interest in horse drawn and other carriages, this hands-on, interactive centre provides a fascinating glimpse into the history that was Old West. It shows how technology and commerce merged in the past century to shape today. There's truly something for everyone.

As soon as you step through the gates, you're struck by the caliber and tone of the Museum. The staff has gone to great lengths to create a museum that's both welcoming and impressive – everything is organized beautifully, to help create a seamless journey for you as you explore the history of transportation in our neck of the woods.

But the conveyances on display aren't just limited to Alberta's past. Carriages and the like from places as far away as London, England have been brought in to help illustrate the popular modes of travel for given periods of history.


Explore at Your Own Pace

The museum has been designed to allow for self-guided tours at your own pace, but for those who want a more structured experience, knowledgeable and friendly guides are on hand to give tours of the museum with some of the colour and interesting history factoids you might otherwise miss.

Each of the 16 different displays are organized in a series of vignettes providing incredible detail about the vehicles that came to be used in the late 19th century, and early 20th century.

Exhibited with a theatrical flavor – including sound, lights, videos and photographs – the museum truly offers a journey back in time. Scenes from real-life history are recreated with props and artifacts, while newsreels and photographs add another dimension to the experience.

It's possible for visitors to see the different kinds of vehicles that were used for travel in a variety of lifestyles. From wagons hauling construction materials and old-fashioned school vans to prairie chuck wagons and turn-of-the-century hearses, the scope and number of conveyances is truly amazing.

When we visited the Remington Carriage Museum, we were on a tight schedule and had to forgo the guided tours in favor of showing ourselves around. The beautifully detailed explanations for each of the vehicles on display add colour and warmth to the experience.

In retrospect, we probably should have gone with the guided tours, since our constant calling back and forth – "You've got to come over and see this!" – probably kept our fellow guests highly amused.


What Your Carriage Says About You

Just like today, vehicles back then carried more than passengers, they conveyed status. When you're dropping big bucks on, say, a top of the line Lexus, you're making a statement beyond safety and performance.

So it was fascinating to see how some of the carriages were ordered years in advance by their eventual owners, who were shelling out big dollars – to the tune of $10,000 in 1910 – for the privilege of owning one of these showy, spectacular vehicles. There were even touring models built especially for the ladies so they could travel in comfort.

Afternoon rides in Victoria carriages and phaetons were integral parts of the social scene in centres like Montreal, San Francisco and New York. Among the displays is a hansom cab, owned by a Vanderbilt, which was built in Wolverhampton, England. There's even a taste of Hollywood. Some of the vehicles on display were used by actors Jackie Chan and Tom Selleck in movies like Shanghai Noon and Crossfire Trail.


Go Behind-the-Scenes

In addition to all the history, there's also an opportunity to view some of the behind-the-scenes action at the Remington Carriage House. With the facility covering more than 20 acres, there's plenty to see and do. The vehicle storage area is open to the public, and offers visitors a chance to view the conveyances that aren't yet part of the exhibits in the main gallery.

The Workshop area allows guests to watch as expert craftsmen undertake the preservation and repair of these extraordinary vehicles. The Tack Room also provides a hands-on opportunity to learn how to harness a horse – safely, of course! – and develop a new appreciation for the skill workers of old must have had to complete these tasks quickly and efficiently.

Three breeds of horses – the Clydesdale, Quarter Horse and Canadian – are housed at the Centre, and visits to the stables are a popular choice with visitors. Of course, no tours of the Remington Carriage Museum would be complete without a carriage ride, which offers a chance to re-enact history first-hand with this timeless method of travel.

The Museum's Main Gallery includes a fire hall, blacksmith shop, carriage factory and carriage dealership, as well as a Day at the Races area that highlights vehicles that were used by the elite of Victorian society.

The Remington Carriage Museum is open year-round, and includes a spacious on-site restaurant. If High Tea is to your liking, as it is mine, you can call ahead and enjoy some delicious scones and tea during your adventure.


Other Attractions

When we visited the museum, we were traveling from Waterton, which is just a 40 km (25 mile) drive away. It's a perfect spot in a day-long tour of the Rocky Mountains – a tour that can include visits to the aforementioned Waterton Park, the spectacular Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, and Cardston-area attractions including the Museum of Miniatures and the well recognized and highly recommended Cobblestone Manor.

As the hometown of Fay Wray, of King Kong fame, Cardston also features a fountain in her honour. The Remington Carriage Museum made for a captivating and inspiring stop on our 2.5 hour drive back to Calgary, and certainly made us more appreciative of the modern conveniences – say, air conditioning and a steering wheel – that we enjoyed when we returned to our car.

The Remington Carriage Museum is the brainchild and legacy of Don Remington, a leader in the community of Cardston. What was to be a life-long interest in horse-drawn vehicles stemmed from his search for a sleigh for the town's yearly Santa Clause Parade in 1954.

For more than 30 years, Don steadily expanded a collection that is recognized internationally for its uniqueness. His collection was donated to the Province of Alberta in 1985, and a few short years later, in 1993, Don's passion found a permanent home in the world-class Remington Carriage Museum.

Not only are tours of the Remington Carriage Museum an opportunity to learn more about methods of travel in days gone by, they also help give you a new appreciation for the mobility we take for granted today. The next time you hail a cab, you'll be counting your blessings.


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Copyright (c) 2006 Travel Alberta, All Rights Reserved

Travel Alberta is the destination marketing organization for the Province of Alberta. Guided by the Strategic Tourism Marketing Council, Travel Alberta is the steward for the effective delivery of tourism marketing programs. For information about our organization, please visit our Travel Alberta industry web site at http://www.travelalberta.com

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