Heritage Park embarks on $10M expansion to look into energy industry past — and future

Calgary's Heritage Park announced big plans Wednesday, that will have the historic park no longer looking into the past — but the future.

New exhibits will involve augmented reality

Heritage Park's expansion will focus on the past and future of the province's natural resource industries. (Travel Alberta handout/Canadian Press)

Calgary's Heritage Park announced big plans Wednesday, that will have the historic park no longer looking into just the past — but also the future.

The tourist attraction launched a $10-million, two-phase expansion that will focus on the past, present and future of Alberta's energy industry.

Phase one will involve the restoration of some classic features of the park, including a gold miner's cabin, water wheel, coal mining tunnel, nature trail, park warden's cabin and replica oil well, that have aged, been shut down or disassembled over the years. That will cost about $3.6 million. 

Augmented reality

"This revitalization will allow visitors to step back to 1914 when oil was first struck in Turner Valley," said park president and CEO Alida Visbach.

"What comes next is something that in our 53 years as a living history museum, we've never done before — we'll look into the future."

The remainder will be spent on phase two, the creation of a 3,300-sq.-ft. natural resource interpretive centre that will use virtual and augmented reality to explore future advancements in the energy industry.

Visbach said the idea came about with the intent of telling a "balanced story" of the province's energy sector.

"We started this process to identify what stories we needed to tell or tell better. This move into talking about the present and the future is a fairly new concept that we decided about 18 months ago had to be part of this story, especially right now when we're facing what we're facing from the east and the west, we need to tell the real story — and as an educational institution we're the right place to do it," she said.

The two phases of the Heritage Park expansion will cost $10 million to build. (Colin Hall/CBC)

The park — which is Canada's largest living history museum — is hoping to raise enough to fund the project from government, corporations and private donors. It has already received a large donation from Bob Brawn, a Calgary oilpatch entrepreneur. 

"We're in this game for a while, schoolchildren and people such as myself should remember the history and the people who really built this country," Brawn said.

Visbach said it's surprising how little some Albertans know about the natural resources industry, but felt that to delve into that story, the exhibit had to involve where the industry's future could lead.

"I think that's part of our mission as a museum. Our core mission is to preserve history. But there's more to this story than what happened in the past."

Phase one of the project is set to be complete next year and they hope to have the new resource centre finished in 2020. 

With files from Colin Hall