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Step back in time at Hobo Days

By Josh Aldrich, Camrose Canadian

Camrose Heritage Railway Museum and Park managing director Norm Prestage is already in character for Hobo Days on Saturday. Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian

Camrose Heritage Railway Museum and Park managing director Norm Prestage is already in character for Hobo Days on Saturday. Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian

As Canadians one of the things we are most proud of is our character and our perseverance. 

We are shaped by our ability to survive and thrive in the harshest of conditions and through difficult times economically. 

This character was formed early on in the development of this country and passed on down through generations. One of the major events that forged this attribute was the Great Depression of the 1930s, when people had no jobs, no food, and at times even less hope. But they found a way to survive. One of those ways was by illegally hopping on the rail and head out in search of opportunity.  

It is this determination that the Camrose Heritage Railway Museum and Park is celebrating on Saturday with their first ever Hobo Days. 

“Canadians have always been doers and survivors and got through tough times,” said museum managing director Norm Prestage. “Everybody came home from the war with such high expectations, then boom, bottom of the barrel depression. It developed character.” 

Hobo Days runs from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. with a variety of activities throughout the day. 

Entrusted with the task of bringing the past to life is a troupe of actor who will have a reconstructed a Hobo Jungle with the hopes of giving guests a sliver of what life meant on the Prairies for these people 80-90 years ago. 

A Hobo Jungle was their tent city, a place where they gathered to live in lean-tos while scouring the area for work. Visitors will be invited to sit down with them, listen to their stories inspired by the book Ten Lost Years by Barry Broadfoot, which chronicles life as a hobo during that era, and sing songs with them. 

There will also be a brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. that will feature Hobo Stew, Sunny Boy Bread, Hobo Beans, pie and gingerbread cookies in the Beanery — or what is now the restaurant. 

The day will very much be about educating people on how we made it through one of the worst economic disasters Canada has ever faced. There will be displays decrypting the Hobo Code, which was a set of signals they would scratch into posts to alert their transient brethren to what kind of people could be found on the adjacent property and where they may find welcoming amenities.  

One of the demonstrations on Saturday will be how they used coffee cans as stoves at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., led by Gary Middleton. 

People are encouraged to dress up and get into it as well, for those that do not have hobo-style clothing, there will be costumes on hand for people to get their picture taken in. Most of the staff will be in costumes, including Prestage who will be wearing a wool jacket and found a hat that he hopes will transport him back in time — he’s even growing out his beard and moustache. 

“This could be really interesting because it is supposed to be 29-30 C on Saturday,” he said. 

There will also be face painting and period games on site for the kids and the Camrose Public Library is sending the Book Bike down with crafts. 

The story of the hobos is an important one that the Railway Station and Park want to turn into an annual showcase. It is a story that has the potential to be an inspiration today in Alberta as we navigate through our worst economic time since the depression. 

“Most of them were good people, they were just in very unfortunate circumstances and did the best they could,” said Prestage. “It’s a good lesson. What we’re going through now is nothing like what it was in the late 20s and 30s. In Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, the whole country blew away. The farmers had no crops and no money, the banks repossessed houses, farms, everything.” 

The day is free to attend for the public, though there is a cost for the brunch — $12 for the full meal, $8 without dessert while pie is $4 and cookies $1.25, and beverages will also be available. 

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