This article is based on the information collected during a personal interview with Mr. Howard Snyder, Curator of the Cardston Remington Carriage Museum. Mr. Snyder reviewed this article and approved of its accuracy.
Take a man like Don Remington, who had a passion for collecting horse-drawn carriages, add a curiosity factor about digging up the personal history behind each carriage that he acquired and what do you get? Ultimately, you get the Remington Carriage Museum in Cardston, Alberta!
The Remington Carriage Museum has the largest Museum of horse-drawn carriages in the world—and that is something to see! It is uniquely, one of the 19 museums, historical and interpretive centres owned and operated by the government of Alberta and has been open to the public now for 19 years, open year-round, seven days per week. The museum has received many prestigious awards, one notable award, by Attractions Canada, was that of “best indoor attraction in Canada.”
Although the museum had its official opening in 1993, the carriage collection, itself, really began back in November 1954. Don Remington and his friend, Harvey Woolf, went to Marysville, British Columbia, where they each bought an old cutter. Don planned to use his cutter to drive Santa Claus down Cardston’s Main Street to open the 1954 Christmas shopping season.
Between 1954 and 1987, Don Remington had collected 49 carriages. What made his collection unique is that Don dug up the fascinating history behind the vehicle and included that personal history with each restored carriage.
Then, in 1987, Don offered to donate 48 of these carriages to the Province on three conditions:
(1) That the collection be provided with a building to display them in,
(2) That the building be built in Cardston, rather than in Lethbridge or Calgary,
(3) And that he would have access to the collection for the rest of his life, because he considered his collection a “living collection,” not a dead museum collection. In Cardston, it was a common sight to see Don, or someone representing him, displaying his carriages as they were driven up and down Main Street.
As for the Alberta government building that would eventually house his collection, Don had in mind a building that would cost—oh, roughly speaking, one million dollars. That was a lot of money back in the late 1980s! Negotiations continued and plans for housing Don’s collection grew and became ever more complex until, finally, when the Remington Carriage Museum opened its doors to the public in 1993, the final cost of the building was 16.4 million dollars!
Today, the museum stands as the largest and finest purpose-built carriage museum in the world. The phrase, purpose-built carriage museum is not just an advertising gimmick thought up by the Alberta government: there actually is a larger carriage museum located in Lisbon, Portugal that was part of the royal palace. But, when the people kicked out their king, they had to do something with all the carriages that belonged to the former king, so they just put them all on public display. But, their buildings were not purposely built for the express purpose to house carriages, as was the Remington Carriage Museum.
The descriptive tag, purpose-built, comes from a quote in the Carriage Association of America journal. In their journal they stated that “The Remington Carriage Museum is the most spacious and best equipped purpose-built museum in the world.”
Among its over 280 carriages on display today, the museum houses an especially famous horse-drawn carriage: a five-glass Landau that, in 1973, carried Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip through the Calgary Stampede grounds.
There’s an interesting story leading up to this famous visit by the Queen and Prince Philip and the Landau. In the early part of 1973, when the provincial government in Edmonton got word that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were coming to visit and would be attending the Calgary Stampede, the government invited Don Remington and his friend, Jack Bevans, also of Cardston, to bring two horses and their Landau to Calgary to carry the Royal Couple. Don and Jack were delighted, and promptly proceeded to Calgary with their horses and carriage, as requested. When they got there, they inquired of the R.C.M.P., “Well, where’s the Queen? We’re here to carry the Queen and Prince Philip in the Calgary Stampede.”
Oops! The R.C.M.P. looked puzzled: there was a miscommunication problem. The provincial government had been clear about wishing to have Don Remington’s Landau carrying the royal couple during the Calgary Stampede, but the government had failed to notify the R.C.M.P., and since the R.C.M.P. were responsible for the security of the Royal couple, the Mounties stubbornly dug in their heels.
“Absolutely out of the question!” was their first response. There wasn’t time! first, everything had to be vetted: the drivers had to be vetted. Any accompanying escorts had to be vetted, and Don and Jack’s skills as drivers had to be vetted. The Landau had to be x-rayed for soundness and for possible hidden devices.
The R.C.M.P. definitely were not happy, but had little choice other than to carry out the provincial government’s plan, so they came up with a solution. Since Don and Jack were already dressed in formal livery attire, they would stand at the back of the Landau as footmen and the R.C.M.P. would supply the driver.
In the end, Don Remington could not have been happier with this arrangement because, as driver, he wouldn’t have been able to turn around and talk to the royal couple. But, standing at the back as a footman behind the royal couple, it was easy for him to engage Prince Philip in conversation. At one point, Prince Philip turned and asked Don, “This is an interesting vehicle. Where did it come from?” Since Prince Philip was honorary president of the Driving Association of England, he was knowledgeable about carriages.
“Who does this vehicle belong to?” Asked the prince.
“It belongs to me.” Replied Don, and this was probably the first time that the British royalty had the experience where the vehicle they were riding in belonged to the footman!
One other carriage, an eight-spring canoe-bottom Barouche, made by the Brewsters in 1902, also has some fame of royalty attached to it. In 1990, the Queen again came to Calgary to open the Queen’s Cup Show Jumping Competition and this particular Barouche was used to carry the Queen into the arena in the famous Spruce Meadows event.
The very first vehicle collected by Don Remington was a little cutter of somewhat dubious origin, but the first wheeled vehicle was a Prairie Concorde owned by the Sandiman family from Lundbreck, Alberta.
Another interesting vehicle in the Museum is an Ice Wagon that belonged to Charlie Van Horne of Lethbridge. Charlie used it to deliver ice to homes in Lethbridge during the 1920s to 1940s. Come on all you old-timers, raise your hand. How many of you still remember the days before electric refrigerators when the Iceman made a daily call to your home?
On a little more sombre note, the Museum also displays a very elegant hearse that was in active use circa the 1930s and 40s in Morinville, Alberta, a community north of Edmonton. Many travellers who come down to visit from Edmonton nostalgically remember —at times with a tear in their eye—some of the dearly departed that this hearse carried to their final resting place.
When you first approach the main gate leading into the Remington Carriage Museum, you will be greeted by a larger-than-life bronze statue of Don Remington. Just ahead is the building that houses most of the carriages. As you get closer, take a glance to your right. There, on the north side of the building you will see another statue, this time a life-sized bronze statue of the jockey, George Woolf, mounted on Seabiscuit.
For all you horseracing fans, I don’t have to tell you who Seabiscuit was. In 1938, during the height of the American depression, Seabiscuit and War Admiral—then the favourite to win—ran in a match race, called to this day “The Race of the Century.” As the two horses approached the homestretch, George Woolf shouted over to the jockey on War Admiral, “So long, Charlie,” then let loose the reins on Seabiscuit.
Sadly, Don Remington passed away of a heart attack in 1987 and never got to see his museum finished to the glorious, full extent that tourists see it today. But, he did leave us with a rich legacy: all who visit (his) museum will leave with a feeling of having been wonderfully and intimately touched by the passion and love that this pioneer had for antique carriages. His vision has permanently etched into the hearts of all visitors the glory days of the horse-drawn carriage: the Remington Carriage Museum!