Imagination Station at the Museum of the Highwood and The Whistlestop Cafe

Update June 2016 – My family visited the Imagination Station at the Museum of the Highwood and all three of the kids (18 months, 4 and 7 years) loved it. There are some small changes since the original review but the children’s area is essentially the same.

Original post (April 2013)
Thanks to Cielia for this guest review!

Location:  High River, AB 

Your child’s review (3 years old): “What did you like the best?” “The Horses!” (The old fashioned toy kind, on a stick)

Day Pass Cost: free, donations gratefully accepted

Parking: plenty of small town style angle parking
Food Services: The Whistle Stop Cafe, an authentic retired railway dining car situated just outside of the Museum

Age Range: 0 – 13
Stay Length: 1 – 2 hours

If you are looking for something to do during these blustery and muddy winter to spring transition days, head down to the Museum of the Highwood and The Whistlestop Cafe for some indoor fun.

Museum of the Highwood

My young son Eric often asks to go to see the “Dinin’ Car.”  After about an hour’s drive (30 mins from the south edge of Calgary), one may find an old retired railway dining car permanently parked on the lawn of the museum in High River (N.B. Google is off by a couple of blocks).

Museum of the Highwood

Both times we were there as breakfast was being served, so we ate through a hefty serving of eggs, pancakes and hashbrowns. The waitress is very friendly and kind to little ones and supplies window markers to the enthused dining guests, who then mark up the train car windows with delightful scribbles. This part is just about as exciting as being on a real “Dinin’ Car!”

Museum of the Highwood

After the food we headed in to the Museum of the Highwood in the sandstone building directly beside the train car.  This building was orignally the town train station, which you might guess from it’s shape and architecture.

[The Museum of the Highwood fairly small museum that holds two exhibits. One about Film in the Foothills and the other about the writer W.O Mitchell.]

After surviving a fairly recent fire, the museum was completely renovated and the children’s area was given much thought and attention. The designers included an Early Childhood Education specialist and I can attest that the area was very well planned as it was difficult to pry Eric away both times that we were there.

What was really fun for me were all the pioneering memories that are kept alive through this simple yet engaging play space. I was happy to share with my son the experience of carding sheep’s wool or the sound of a handmade old fashioned wooden noise maker.

Museum of the Highwood

He spent most of his time in the General Store (“The High River Trading Company”, after the real store of the same name).

Museum of the Highwood

Amongst all the wares for pretend sale from days gone by he made pancakes, eggs and cake to serve at the tea party table. I enjoyed watched him figure out the hand cranked egg beater and grinding machine and I marvelled at how well made and detailed kitchen implements used to be.

Museum of the Highwood

Eric didn’t feel like dressing up in the playhouse but did enjoy the shape of it as I did. It is a miniature of the old “Superman” house in High River which was used in the filming of the movie in 1983.

Museum of the Highwood

Eric liked the turret which he pretended was an elevator. We rode the elevator up and down many floors on our hobby horses.  Hobby horses are sock headed horses on a stick – this toy was another great memory from my own youth.

Museum of the Highwood

There is an interesting looking hexagonal cabinet in the room which is best described by the museum program coordinator:

“The largest structure in the space is a six sided cabinet for toys, exhibits and display of art work etc. It’s modeled after the old Cabinets of Curiosities which were the first museums. They were used by private collectors in Europe – usually rich private collectors.  Wealthy young men on their Grand Tour would stop in to whatever chateau or castle to admire the owner’s Cabinet of Curiosities.”

If there are not any curiosities pre-loaded into the guessing game cubby holes you can find something in the drawers or the toy box to put in to see if your child can figure out what the object is by feel.

From the old one room school desks to the train set to the chuckwagon bed with campfire, there is lots to play with. This could make a fun day trip with the Grandparents (or even Great Grandparents?).

Don’t forget the gift shop as you exit – you can take some old fashioned charm home with you. The children’s space is also available for birthday parties at $5 per child.  

If you feel like staying in High River a little longer, other kid friendly activities for more summery months are the Sheppard Family Farm, a spray park, and George Lane park.  

All Photos Courtesy of Cielia Hatch

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