The North American ranching industry can trace its roots to Iberia. Gregoire de Villalobos shipped seven Andalusian calves to Vera Cruz on the Gulf of Mexico in 1521, four years after Cortéz had slaughtered the Aztec civilization into submission. Given a modicum of protection, these animals thrived in the New World and a whole culture, as well as an industry, was born. From the pampas of Argentina to the llianos of southern Texas, herds of longhorns supplied the children of the conquistadors with their favourite meat. When Americans, in their turn, conquered Texas in the 1840s, they took over the Spaniards industry and made fortunes supplying herds of cattle to hungry Forty-niners in California and the landless city-dwellers of the East. The Civil War increased demand and encouraged the spread of cattle ranching within Texas, and with the arrival of the railroad west of the Mississippi after the War and the ease of access to market that it provided, ranchers looked for new grasslands upon which to pasture their burgeoning herds. As the buffalo were driven to the edge of extinction, their former range beckoned cattle, and by the early 1870s, ranching had reached what is now the State of Montana.
Dr. James Hector, the naturalist and geologist with the Palliser Expedition of the late 1850s, had opined that, should the buffalo vanish, the foothill region of the Rockies could make ideal ranching country. Long before anyone could imagine the disappearance of the millions of Bison, the cattle industry in what is now Alberta took its first hesitant steps to viability. In the autumn of 1871 the Methodist missionary John Chantler McDougall and his trader brother, David, brought a fifty head horse herd up from Montana to Fort Victoria, their headquarters on the North Saskatchewan River downstream from Fort Edmonton. The prairie wool,2 wrote Sheilagh Somerville Jameson in Era of the Big Ranches (The Best from Alberta History, Western Producer Prairie Books,3 ed. Hugh Dempsey, Saskatoon, 1981), a nutritious blend of blue grama (Bouteloua gracilisJune grass), bluejoint, spear, and other grasses 4 which had the happy ability to cure on the stalk and thus provide good winter forage without having to be mowed and stored, well sustained the McDougall herd and was the subject of many a glowing comment in the familys reports to their sponsors and Canadian authorities. Two years later, in November of 1873, the family obtained a bull and eleven cows at Fort Edmonton and drove them to the Methodists new mission to the Stoney Indians at what is now Morleyville, on the Bow River west of Calgary near the HBCs long-abandoned out-post, Bow Fort. Thanks in part to the phenomenal warm Chinook winds which sweep the snows from the Rocky Mountains Eastern Slopes three or four times a winter, the cattle survived the winter in fine condition on the native grasses. The next year the brothers had Kenneth McKenzie drive a small herd of beef cattle from Montana up to the Stoney mission. The success of the familys experiments, coupled with American cattlemens experiences proving the wools suitability for domestic cattle, was duly noted by Eastern stock growers and the British money markets. However, with vast herds of Bison still roaming the Plains and wild Indians liable to extensively sample any new animals on their hunting grounds, development of ranching in Western Canada had to wait.
The arrival of the N-WMP on the Old Man River in 1874 changed the focus of human activity on the Prairies. The Mounties themselves drove a herd of cattle with them from Manitoba as a living larder, and when that was exhausted, the Force was in the market for meat. Ever eager for business, and confident that Police presence guaranteed the safety of its investment, the I.G. Baker Company of Fort Benton drove a herd of Montana cattle up the Old North Trail in 1875 to supply the N-WMP at Fort Macleod and their newly-established post on the Bow River, Fort Calgary.
The Alberta cattle industry got its real start in the 1876 when, according to David H. Breen in his 1969 masters thesis for the University of Calgary, The Cattle Compact: The Ranch Community in Southern Alberta, 1881-1896, a former HBC servant, George Emerson, settled a small herd of Montana cattle near Fort Macleod. His lead was soon followed by Henry Alfred Fred Kanouse and Tom Lynch. Sim Christie brought in his horse herd. Nearby Montana ranchers, because they had allowed their own ranges to be savagely over-grazed, began pushing some of their animals across the sketchily-marked Boundary to forage. The radical reduction of the Bison had left Canadian range well grassed, and the American operators saw it as a shame to waste the resource. From these herds the ranchers supplied the N-WMPs modest needs. Having served out their three-year-long enlistment, several retired N-WM Policemen went into the business, secure in the knowledge that the Force would not only do its best to protect their erstwhile members endeavours, but would be among their best customers. With herds bought in Montana, these men set up operations on likely pasturage and began the strenuous task of minimizing losses in a hostile environment, striving to increase the number of their animals until they could safely cull some for market.
That market was about to expand dramatically. With the Mounties imposing Canadian law upon the people on the Prairies, in the mid-1870s Ottawa had embarked upon a series of treaties with Canadas western Indians. In the autumn of 1877 David Laird, the Lieutenant-governor of the North-West Territories, had signed Treaty Seven with the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) nationsthe Piikani, the Siksikah, and the Kainaathe Stoneys and the Tsuu Tina (Sarcee) in what is now southern Alberta. This treaty defined the extent of reservations and encouraged the Tribes to settle upon them, and also guaranteed that, should the game animals disappear, the Government would supply the Indians with food. Already the Bison, which for millennia had migrated in their millions up and down the plains, were rarely seen in Canada. Facing starvation, the Indians interpreted the Treaty to mean that they could take whatever animals they could find. They hunted cattle, and when the ranchers complained to the commandant of the N-WMP in the West, Colonel James Farquharson Macleod, he claimed that his forces were not yet in a position to guarantee absolute security, and it would be best for the ranchers if they took their herds back to Montana for awhile where the U.S. Army would kill any Indian who dared molest a White mans livestock. With the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Edgar Dewdney, declaring that he had no money to compensate them for their losses and was doing his best to get the Reserves property surveyed and to convince the Indians to move to and remain on them, many of the ranchers took Macleods advice, despite the losses from poaching by American ranchers. Fearing that the budding industry would perish, the Canadian government felt compelled to fulfill its obligations under Treaty 7, and in 1879 the it paid the I.G. Baker Company to drive a thousand head of cattle up into the Porcupine Hills for the starving Natives to hunt. After all, observed Doctor Duncan McEachran in his treatise Impressions of Pioneer Alberta as a Ranching Country, Commencing 1881 (as quoted by Breen), it was cheaper to feed [the Indians] than fight them.
In 1879 Great Britain placed an embargo upon cattle raised in the United States. Coupled with the optimistic reports on the agricultural potential of the West that the soon-to-be Dominion Botanist, John Macoun, regularly submitted to Ottawa, enthusiasm for investing in Western ventures was increasing. The buffalo were all but gone, and most Indians had been starved into submission and convinced to remain on their reserves to receive rations. The range was open and the Indian Branch of the Department of the Interior was in the market for meat for its hungry wards.
The Canadian cattle industry got a big boost in the summer of 1881 when none other than the governor-general of Canada, the Marquis of Lorne, and his wife Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, processed through Canadas West on a grand farewell tour. In their entourage were several British journalists who regaled their readers with reports of rich rangelands rolling boundlessly eastward from the blue Canadian Rockies.
Having served out their hitch, or otherwise freed themselves from their duties, some ex-policemen returned to their Québec and Ontario homes enthusing about the limitless possibilities of ranching in the West, perhaps quoting from U.S. Army general J.S. Brisbins Beef Bonanza, or How to Get Rich on the Plains. Among those who heard the talk and read the British reporters stories was Senator Matthew Henry Cochrane of Compton, Québec. He was already in the cattle business and, with the price of beef steadily rising in response to the demands of the English industrial Worker, was eager to expand his operations. The drawback was, in Cochranes view, that the Dominion Land Act of 1872 was tailored to the needs of farmers in that it did not allow individuals to lease or buy the contiguous tracts of rangeland necessary for raising livestock. The Senator was a personal friend of John A. Macdonald, who had in 1878 been returned to power as the prime minister. Macdonald was well aware that British money was pouring into U.S. cattle operations, and that the Indians on the Prairies were rapidly approaching dire straits as the numbers of buffalo dwindled. The Indian Branch had in 1879 established a small mixed farming operation on Pincher Creek in what is now southern Alberta, and another near Calgary, in an attempt to supply starving Natives. In an effort to root a Canadian cattle industry in the West, according to S.S. Jameson in her Partners and Opponents (The CPR West, H.A. Dempsey, ed., Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver, 1984), Macdonalds cabinet passed an Order-In-Council on December 23rd, 1881, providing for the 21-year lease of up to 100,000 acres of land at a penny a year per acre with the stipulation that, to prevent over-grazing, a minimum of ten acres be reserved for each head of cattle. As well, the import duties on American breeding cattle was suspended, providing that each animal imported be kept for a minimum of three years on the Canadian range before being marketed, oft-times to the I.G. Baker Company which was, until the CPR brought hungry work crews and a speedy link to eastern markets, the largest purchaser of Alberta beef. The Police and the Department of Indian Affairs were also reliable customers.
With optimism buoyed by prairie wool and betting that a railroad would soon link the West with the meat-hungry East, Percy R. Neale, Samuel Benfield Steele and William Winder were among the several N-WM Policemen who planned futures as western ranchers. On January 29th, 1880, Neale and Steele had registered the first cattle brand in the N-WTthe 71. On March 19th Winder registered the second brand in the Territories, the double crank, and, two months later, with money he raised around his Québec home, he formed his Winder Ranche Company. When he received his discharge in 1881, Winder was well placed to get into the cattle business, leasing range on the lower Willow Creek, just north of Fort Macleod. By then the trans-continental Canadian Pacific Railway appeared to be a-building, and might be soon expected to make its appearance on the western Prairies. With transportation to Eastern markets assured, Winder, though he wouldnt get his lease until 1883, ran cattle up from Montana and got his business started. Tragically, no sooner was his lease granted than, as not infrequently happened in the rough West, Winder was killed. With him died his Ranche.
Another who wouldnt wait was Senator Cochrane himself. Assured by his Conservative cohorts that the Order-in-Council establishing the lease system would indeed be passed, in the spring of 1881 Cochrane had made his way to Fort Benton in Montana Territory where he bought a horse and a buckboard buggy, loaded it with supplies and headed up the Old North Road into Canada. He stopped in at Fort Macleod and then went on to Fort Calgary. The countryside there appealed to him and he picked out 100,000 acres due west of the Fort, smack-dab across the intended route of the CPR. Returned East, he formed the Cochrane Ranche Company that May and quickly subscribed some £100,000 from among his London friends. With the money that summer he purchased Aberdeen Angus, Herefords and Shorthorn bulls in Britain and shipped them to North America where, by rail and paddlewheeler, they were delivered to Fort Benton. From Benton he had them, and a herd of rough longhorn cows he purchased from I.G. Baker, driven to his spread that October by Frank Strong and some Baker cowboys. There were, reports Jameson, some 7,000 animals. After two brutal winters had decimated his herd and the CPR claimed part of his lands under its payment agreement with the federal government, Cochrane leased the entire mesopotamian tract of land between the Belly and the Waterton Rivers, south-west of Fort Macleod. Thither he removed his cattle in 1883, having formed the British-American Ranche Company to take over the original spread and stock it with sheep. The Senator was not disappointed in the new range, and, thanks to the expertise of his American manager, John Dunlap, did so well on it that by 1885 the Cochrane Ranche Company had swallowed the Rocky Mountain Cattle Company, the Anglo-Canadian Ranche Company, and the Eastern Townships Ranche Company. In total the senator controlled over a third of a million acres of premier Alberta grazing lands. Despite the savage winter of 1886-87 which killed thousands of cattle throughout the Territories, Cochranes business so thrived that when all open leases were cancelled in 1896, he was able to buy out-right most of his southern range. Though never actually a resident in the West, his support of the innovations of his managers did much to develop the art of ranching in Alberta. Two years after his death in 1903, his family, uninterested in continuing the operation, sold out to the Mormon Churchwhich still owns most of it, having broken much of the land for farming.
The Cochrane Ranche was the first of the Big Four outfits in southern Alberta. The second was the North-West Cattle Company, the old Bar-U, up on the Highwood River about halfway between Forts Macleod and Calgary. The aforementioned Captain Wm. Winder instigated the founding of this operation, as well as his own. Through the agency of his father-in-law, Fred Stimson of Compton, Québec, Winder approached shipping magnate Sir Hugh Andrew Montagu Allan and convinced him to set up the North-West Cattle Company. This was accomplished in March of 1882, with Allan and his brother contributing most of its 300,000-dollar capitalization. Stimson was appointed manager and registered the Bar-Us brand on October 20, 1881. Winder and Sir Hugh were soon dead, but the Bar-U survived, ending up as part of Pat Burns enormous holdings in 1923.
The third of the great ranches to be established, to follow Sheilagh Jamesons ordering in her Ranches, Cowboys and Characters (Glenbow Museum, Calgary, 1987), was the Oxley Ranche which manager J.R. (John) Craig established in 1882 on Willow Creek, just west of present day Claresholm, some 30 kilometres north of Fort Macleod. A cattle-breeder of some renown from Ontario, Craig had interested a friend of Sir John A. Macdonald, British parliamentary member Alexander Stavely Hill, and the Earl of Lathom, in a western venture. Craig, too, bought Montana cattle and received them on his lease in early August of 1883. By 1884, according to An Old Timer TellsThe Pioneer Memories of William Cousins (ed. Marcel M.C. Dirk, MMC Dirk, 1994), the spread hosted some 7,000 head. Four years later, reports Breen, the Ranche controlled a spread of 287,000 acres. Never a financially sound operation due to the parsimoniosity of its British aristocratic backers, the Oxley exhausted several managers, including Alexander Galts son-in-law, Arthur Springett, before its owners sold out to the well-known Calgary cattleman, William Roper Hull, in 1903.
Dr. Duncan McEachran, veterinary surgeon, chief federal quarantine officer, and an original investor in, and manager of, Senator Cochranes Ranche in the Bow valley, began organizing the fourth of the Big Four ranches in 1882. His vision of a vast spread in the shadows of the Rockies fired the imaginations, and perhaps, cupidity, of a former British member of parliament, Sir John Walrond-Walrond, and his associate, Lord Clinton. His financing in place through the Walrond Cattle Ranche Limited, McEachran leased a few thousand acres on the Old Man River between the Porcupines and the Livingstones and in the summer of 1883 bought a herd of cross-bred long horn cattle in Great Falls, Montana Territory, for an average of $15 per head. On April 20th of 1884 the company registered its running WR brand, and that year bought another 3,000 range-wild long horns at an average price of $32/head from the T.C. Power Companys Judith River Ranch in Montana. With that herd added to the original, McEachran and his manager, James Mollison, estimated that they were running 4,000 head of cattle and 150 horses. Blessed with a micro-climate which ensured the survival on nearly all its cattle, the ranch proved a meteoric success, endearing itself to its investors by declaring a 35% dividend in June of 1886 to shareholders of record in the previous year. The terrible winter of 1886-87 which saw some ranches loose up to 60% of their animals taught Mollison and all western ranchers the importance of putting up a supply of feed for emergencies. The Walrond recovered rapidly, however, and by breeding the Montana cattle with Polled Angus and pure-bred Herefords McEachran developed a beef that quickly carved itself an envied niche in the English specialty meat market, permitting the good Doctor leisure time and money enough to indulge his passion for Clydesdale draft horses. The Ranche recovered from a crisis brought on in 1898 when its shareholders insisted that they be paid a insupportable dividend, but the killer winter of 1906-07 truly wrecked the operations profitability. Like the Oxley before it, the Waldron, but for 1,000 acres which McEachran kept to pasture his Clydesdales, passed to Calgary businessman W.R. Hull, and from him to the famous western meat packer, Pat Burns. Broken up and sold piecemeal, its name has since been resurrected and applied by local ranchers to their marketing co-operative.
In the years following the establishment of the Big Four, many other sizeable ranching operations were begun in what became the District of Alberta in 1882. That year the Conrad brothers, Charles and William, who had bought up the I.G. Baker Company in 1873, decided that they had been on the side-lines of the Canadian cattle business long enough. With a couple of partners they formed the Benton and St. Louis Cattle Company which, after the brand was registered in Lethbridge on August 12th, 1886, became known as the Circle Outfit.5 Among the other ranches formed in the Canadian west in the early 80s, the Military Colonization Company of Major-General Thomas Bland Strange ran livestock on the Little Bow, Sir John Lister-Kayes Canadian Coal, Agricultural and Colonization Company took over the duties of the ten CPR/Dominion Government experimental farms along the Railways mainline between Swift Current in the District of Assiniboia and Langdon just east of Calgary, and the Alberta Ranche Company of Sir Francis de Winton, the Marquis of Lorne and Sir F.F. Mackenzie began a running cattle south of Calgary. Other outfits were the Halifax Ranche Company, the Glengarry Ranche Company of general contractor D.D. (Donald) Mann and banker R.R. McLennan, and the Mt. Head Ranch Company. Most of these operations, including the Big Four, were headquartered in either Montréal or London, England, and the overwhelming preponderance of owners and investors were staunch supporters of the Conservative party. Indeed, the granting of many of the leases, finds David Breen, coincided with the federal election campaign of 1882 which culminated in Macdonald returning to power. The Liberals feared that the West was turning into a New Ireland where the Elite would parcel out the choice resources among themselves. Of the 1.7 million-odd acres in the District of Alberta that had been leased to ranches by 1884, nearly one-half had been assigned to the Big Four. Observes Sharon Butala in her Lilac Moon: Dreaming of the Real West (HarperCollins Publishers, Toronto, 2005), ranching in western Canada was initially a privileged mans enterprise, with thousands of exclusive acres available cheaply to those with connections and the thousands of dollars needed to stock it.
In between the big leases, of course, were smaller ones, usually family operations such as the one that the Etons set up on Todd Creek around 1882, often owned by ex-Mounted Policemen6 or American nationals7 who had been squeezed out of Montana. If the smallholders were lucky enough to get good pasture lands with reliable water and shelter from the howling winter storms, they prospered like the Garnett brothers who leased much of the land between the Crowsnest and Castle Rivers (Oldman Middle Fork and South Forks, respectively) around present-day Lundbreck and Cowley. On the average, calves could usually be purchased for about $5 per head, fattened on Prairie grasses a virtually no cost, and sold four or five years later, reports Breen, for anywhere from $45 to $60. It helped, however, to have well-heeled friends with deep pockets, for no matter how wisely directed and strenuous the efforts of the individual rancher, the caprices of weather and fire could, and can still, wipe out years of hard work and take a family from prosperity to penury in a matter of hours.
The origin of so much of the money that supported the ranching enterprises in Western Canada imbued the life thereon with a distinctly British flavour. Gentlemen from the old country frequently accepted managerial positions on the ranches, and many an aristocratic lad was sent from Albion to grow into manhood on the far Prairies. Cultured women, too, like the Garnet brothers exacting sister, Miss Garnett, found themselves in the West. Perhaps to their own surprise, many loved the life and thrived. With them these people naturally brought their customs and expectations, pastimes and sports. Notes Peter C. Newman in Canada 1892: Portrait of a Promised Land (Penguin Books Canada / McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1992), in 1886 …the first polo match ever played in North America… was contested in what is now southern Alberta when E.M. Wilmot, an investor in De Wintons Alberta Ranch, returned from a visit Home with some proper equipment, and gymkhana events added variety to equus-centred get-togethers. Music was important at soirées, as was theatre. Packs of hounds were loosed to run down foxes and cayotes. In short, Canadian cowboy society differed as much from its U.S. counterpart as did a Latin grammar from a Colts revolver. It was, to paraphrase Breen, much more a representative of English metropolitan culture than the advancing American frontier.
Woven into Ranching Society were the N-WM Policemen who were often billeted on the homesteads of the regions larger spreads while on their patrols to Maintiens le Droit.8 Despite this reassurance, Alberta cattlemen still suffered animals lost to the regions many desperately hungry Indians.9
It was to combat the twin menaces of Fire and Rustling that ranchers organized themselves into stock associations, and to lobby the government to do something about protecting the Canadian ranges from the herds of American cattle that were encouraged to munch their way northward across the Boundary, and the hordes of farmers that were expected to arrive in the West with the CRPs mainline. The first formed was the Pincher Creek Stock Association, founded in 1882 and funded by the sale of mavericks and strays turned in by the members. Members agreed to instruct their employees to monitor the movement of stock and report any killed cattle, and to immediately report and rush to extinguish fires no matter where they burned. The Pincher Creek association was quickly imitated in other districts: Willow Creek, High River, Kipp, Kootenai. These organizations were effective as far as they went, but with the Department of the Interior under increasing pressure to reduce the size and duration of leases to free land for farming, the ranchers realized they needed a forum in which to meld the Associations into one voice. The result was the South West Stock Association, formed in April of 1883. This quickly became the political tool of the big ranching companies which used its offices in 1884 to prohibit sheep from grazing south of the High River.
Confrontations between squatters and ranchers increased during this time as more and more farming families appeared on the Prairies, using rolls of Brotherton Barb, Burell Four-Point and Split Diamond barbed wire to fence off water and lush valley bottomlands. When they were unable to intimidate the new settlers into moving on, ranchers appealed to the courts to have them evicted, calling on the Stock Association for support. In response, the agrarian arrivals formed the Alberta Settlers Rights Association in 1885 and demanded, writes Breen, that unstocked leases be cancelled and the land freed up for settlement. The Stock Association was, naturally, called upon to argue on behalf of the ranchers, pointing out that tracts of grasslands periodically needed to remain unstocked to recover from the effects of grazing.
Worrisome to ranchers as well was the absence of inspectors to monitor the health of cattle imported from the United States. This had been left to the inexpert attention of the N-WMP, a force that was thinly spread and fully occupied with matters of the Law. In the view of the Stock Association, this and the other concerns had to be addressed before their industry could truly flourish. Presumably to pay for services that the cattlemen were demanding, to protect local markets, and encourage the importation of hardy British breeds, in 1885 Ottawa imposed a 20% import tariff upon American cattle.
Largely due to the efforts of Jack Garnett, the stock associations concluded that their organizations had been coöpted by the special interests of the Big Ranchers, and wishing a more universal foundation to engage the Department of the Interior in a struggle over leases, the South West Stock Association was re-organized at a general meeting in Calgary on April 13th, 1886, as the Canadian North-West Territories Stock Association (CN-WTSA). At a meeting convened in Fort Macleod on May 11th, 1886, ex-Mountie and Pincher Creek rancher John Herron was elected president, and C.E.D. Wood, as well a former N-WM Policeman and editor of the Fort Macleod Gazette, became the secretary. Within it, the Calgary, the High River, the Willow Creek, and the Pincher Creek Stock Associations unified. The new organization was still in the pocket of the Big Ranches, as the number of votes accorded to each member depended upon the number of cattle the member held. It made no real difference, however, as the concerns of big and small holders coïncided and their demands were common: better policing against rustling, a bounty on wolves,10 security of tenure, an import duty and quarantine placed on imported cattle, water rights defined and a prohibition of sheep on the range south of the High River. Excluded from the CN-WTSA were some ranchers who couldnt meet the criteria set by the others for being genuine ranchers, and these stalked off to form the North-West Stock Association that September. In 1887 the CN-WTSA renamed itself The Alberta Stock Growers Association.
The influence of the ranching community on government policy was waning, however. A West densely settled with farming families was the national objective, not a West of open ranges. Despite the assurances of Macdonalds Minister of the Interior, Thomas White, that Ottawa still favoured the ranchers, on September 13th of 1886 the cabinet passed and Order-in-Council doubling the lease rent rate on the Prairies to 2¢ an acre per year, and making all new lease agreements cancellable with but two weeks notice. To soften the blow, public stock-watering reserves along creeks were also established and deemed ineligible for homesteading.
In 1882 the federal government had completed the part of the Canadian trans-continental railroad linking Port Arthur on Lake Superior, to Winnipeg, the railhead of the Territorial section of the CPR which, under the determined direction of William Cornelius Van Horne, had that year laid rail halfway across Pallisers Triangle before winter weather forced a halt near the present-day town of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. An optimistic entrepreneur could see that the West was about to open up. Fredrick W. Godsal was such an entrepreneur. Educated in Oxford, he knew the governor-general of Canada, the Marquis of Lorne, well enough to stay with him in Ottawa upon his, Godsals, arrival in Canada. Recently arrived back from a grand tour of the North-West Territories, the governor-general inspired his friend to investigate the possibilities of ranching in the West. Godsal forthwith came out to the Territories and leased that portion of the Garnett familys 40,000-acre spread lying between the Castle and the Oldman/Crowsnest River. Godsal would buy the thousand-odd score acres in 1884, leasing what was called the Butte Ranch on the Castle River to the monocled Lionel Lord Brooke and his man, Alfrey, until a misunderstanding saw the Lord move on to his own property, the Chinook Ranch, down near Beauvais Lake. Godsal successfully ranched for many years11 and was one of the first in the region to try irrigation, according to Barry Potyondi (1992).12 In 1895 he requested and received permission from the Department of Agricultures Water Resources Branch to divert water from the Castle onto a 280-acre hay meadow. Unlike many of the cattlemen in Alberta, Godsal was apparently not opposed to sharing the range with farmers, over the years selling his property piecemeal.
On August 10th of 1883 Langdon and Shepard crews pounded the steel of the CPRs Mainline to the right bank of the Swift (Elbow) River opposite Fort Calgary, 100 miles almost exactly due north from the Walrond ranchstead. Less than two years later, on May 16, 1885, at Noslo, Ontario, the last spike in the Mainlines North Shore Section along Lake Superior was driven. Though this meant that settlers could easily arrive on the Prairies, it also meant that Western cattle could now be speedily delivered to Eastern markets without the inconvenience of crossing the International Boundary. As well, with a minimum of fuss, livestock could be trans-shipped to Great Britain, for loaded cattle cars could now be rolled right to Montréal, the head of navigation for ocean-going vessels. The first recorded Western ranchers to ship to Great Britain were the Bell Brothers who dispatched three car loads thither in 1886. Their animals were well received and they made satisfying profits. Within four years, reports Breen, Canadian beef dominated the British market to such an extent that cattle growers there pressed their government to throttle the flow. Their demands were heard and in 1892 the parliament at Westminster decreed that all imported cattle had to be slaughtered within seven days of arriving on British soil. This curtailed Canadian sales thereto, but a new market was opening up as miners flooded into the booming Kootenay and Boundary districts of British Columbia. With the BC cattle industry, established in the 1860s to supply the gold miners in the famous Cariboo district with beef, unable to meet the demand, Alberta cattle began moving westward, 25,000 head in 1895 alone. That year the Territorial ranches prospered, with the Cochrane Ranche Company alone making a phenomenal $80,000. The next year 50,000 animals were sent to market for a total income of $2 million divided among some 500 producers big and small. The good times, however, were about to end.
The CPR and the federal government had hoped that farming settlers would flood out onto the Prairies once the Railways mainline had been completed. By the provisions of its construction contract, the Company had been awarded a huge amount of land which it intended to sell off to pay its debts. The activities of settled farmers would also generate revenue for the Company: grain going east, machinery coming west. To the government of Canada, settlers meant a secure claim to the Territories, putting paid to any sentiments of Manifest Destiny still harboured in Yankee hearts.
But to most Ranchers, FarmersPumpkin Rollers, in the colourful vocabulary of the irascible Dr. Duncan McEachranmeant fences and wild grasslands sacrificed to tame grain crops, towns and roads and alienated watering places. Though squatters had occasionally annoyed ranchers in southern Alberta with their sod busting activities since the mid-80s, the conflict between farmers and cattlemen began in earnest during the next decade. What seems to have been a benchmark case began in July of 1891 when McEachrans Walrond Ranche Company cowboys evicted Samuel and WTV Dunbar from their family farms on the Ranches range. The Dunbars had long insisted on their right to squat, claiming that they had settled on their homesteads in 1883, the same year that rancher John Hollies had obtained a lease for the range whereon the homestead was located. Hollies hadnt bothered the Dunbars who went ahead and made the improvements they saw as necessary to make viable farms. In 1887, however, Hollies surrendered his lease and the Walrond applied to take it up. As that request was being processed, the Dunbars obtained letters patent to their homesteads. Figuratively speaking, these they waved under McEachrans nose when he, with the lease papers in his pocket, came around demanding that the Dunbars vacate his rangeland. Durned, however, if they were moving from the land that was theirs by rights. Intent on discouraging a trend, the Ranche made the Dunbars feel as unwelcome as possible, finally escorting them from their property and destroying their buildings to ensure that they wouldnt return. The Dunbars were tenacious, however, and the case, writes Sheilagh Jameson in Ranches, Cowboys and Characters, thanks largely to the efforts of C.E.D. Wood of the Fort Macleod Gazette, finally made its way to the Canadian parliament in 1892 where the Conservative government only narrowly ruled in favour of the Walrond, denying the validity of the Dunbars patent. The Department of the Interior cancelled the Dunbars pre-emption, eventually compensating the family for their improvements and settling them on another piece of land.
Vigorous confrontations like that between the Walrond and the Dunbars were not frequent in southern Alberta, but all ranchers remained ever vigilant and not shy about inviting squatters to move along. All considered, the Ranchers there were glad that the railroad which the North Western Coal and Navigation Company had laid in 1885 between Medicine Hat and what is today Lethbridge was a resource road dedicated to the removal of coal. It had but one or two coaches and little interest in promoting settlement along its line. Happy, too, were the Ranchers that the CPR mainline was a hundred miles away; too far to economically drive grain waggons. However, in July of 1891 the CPR leased the recently constructed Calgary and Edmonton Railway and immediately began extending it south from Calgary toward Fort Macleod in the heart of ranching country. With the line came thousands of acres of federally-owned land on either side of the Line,13 land that the ranchers were leasing. Seeking profit, the Railway forthwith offered it for sale piecemeal to settlers in order to maximize profit. Facing the extinction of the open range, grass fires caused by locomotives and cattle killed on the tracks, the ranchers protested. With lobbyists funded by the Alberta Stock Association and by appealing directly to their political representatives, the ranchers sought to stave off the Railway.
The Ranchers campaign failed. Public opinion was solidly ranged against the rich, privileged pals of the Macdonald government. Though privately protesting its sympathy with what Breen calls the cattle compact, Canadas effete, unstable Conservative regime was publicly committed to settling the Prairies; people, not cows, paid taxes and supported a Nation. Spurred on by the influential CPR which had millions of acres that it wanted to sell, the government determined to modify the lease arrangement. At a meeting in Calgary on February 29th, 1892, the Minister of the Interior, Edgar Dewdney, informed the Ranchers that they could secure tenure to one tenth of their current holdings for $2.00 per acre: the remainder could be re-leased, but with the understanding this it would be subject to forfeit should the government want to make it available to settlers or reward a railway company. In a bit of quid pro quo, the Ranchers were granted expanded stock watering reserves which had been created in 1886. On October 12th an Order-in-Council declared that as of December 31st, 1896, the closed arrangement which guaranteed cattlemen exclusive enjoyment of their leases would expire. Thence forward leases would be open and could be terminated with two weeks notice. Sugaring a bitter pill, another Order-in-Council proclaimed on April 22nd of 1893 declared that ranchers could buy the tenth of their lease for $1.25 per acre, half the price charged to homesteaders.
If Territorial ranchers entertained hopes that they might win a reprieve from the new leasing arrangement, these were crushed on June 23rd, 1896, when Canadians voted the Wilfrid Lauriers Liberals into federal power. The local representative, Frank Oliver of Edmonton, was a staunch pro-farming advocate, and the open door policies which Clifford Sifton, the new minister of the Interior, subsequently introduced, coupled with a CPR advertising blitz in Europe, attracted to the Territories great numbers of immigrants expecting to farm. Flooding out onto the Prairie, settlers plunked themselves down on desirable plots and commenced to fence off homesteads on lands that Ranchers had formerly regarded as their own. Especially desirable were, of course, lands along water courses. Concluding that they needed a legal organization, in December of 1896 the Ranchers incorporated the Western Stock Growers Association to fight for their cause, primarily against the Territorial Council in Regina, which the ranchers castigated as the farmers council. The Association met with little success in the changing tide of public opinion, and though terrain around streams and pounds essential to the cattle industry were withheld from homesteading, A.M. Burgess, the sympathetic, long-time Deputy Minister of the Interior could do little more to protect the Ranchers privileges. Although the CPR was to cheaply sell ($1.00 to $1.50/acre) to ranchers tracts of the land it won by building the Calgary and Edmonton extension to Macleod West, so much of the open Prairie was so quickly occupied by homesteaders that many of Albertas original ranchers abandoned the cattle business in disgust.
A few ranchers, of course, stayed and worked, and prayed through the remorseless winter of 1906-07 when late autumn rains drenched the Prairies and froze, sealing the grass beneath a thick glaze of ice for the next four months. People who raised horses were lucky; horses will paw their way through ice and snow to expose forage. Cattle dont; cloven hooves just dont chip ice very well, and with little feed available after a poor crop year, ranchers could only watch as their herds died in the January snows. A few photos have come down from that spring, and from the spring of 1920 after Winter staged a repeat performance. In one, a herd of dead cattle lie like a snowdrift swirled up against a fence. In another, clumps of carcases dot the thawing Prairie as far into the distance as the Kodak can discern.
Hanging on through the lean times, the ranching community fostered a vibrant culture which, at least romantically, defines southern Alberta today. In the early years, the limits of leases were geographical features or lines on a map: fencing the wide plains was impractical and cattle were allowed to roam free to find forage and water to their liking. Like Bison, cattle are convinced that safety lies in numbers and, pasturage provided, will congregate and mix, oblivious to their owners lease boundaries. The years 1884 and 85 had seen an enormous influx of cattle onto western Canadian grasslands, and concluding that it was time to take a profit from their operations, the owners organized the Great Round-up of 1885. That autumn, under the captaincy of Jim Dunlap, the foreman of the Cochrane Ranche, squads of riders swept the plains, gathering the cattle, determining their ownership and separating them into individual herds for return to their home ranges. Though all subsequent sweeps were carried out by district, the Round-up quickly became the premier event of Ranching society, an annual gathering at which deals were struck and news exchanged, fiddles unlimbered and cowboys demonstrated their professional skills. Reminiscent of the great spring round-ups, many towns in southern Alberta annually host fairs of which a main constituent is a cowboy rodeo; chuck waggon races, bull riding, bull-dogging, calf roping, and herding dog contests. In southern Alberta, visitors will notice that half the population, whether genuine ranch hands or merely cowboy wannabes, attire themselves in Stetson hats, high-heeled boots and big-buckled belts. Chewing on a stalk of grass, they look to have just stepped out of Marlboro poster painted by Frederic Remington.
The Old North Road
Away eastward from the Lundbreck Railway overpass, the gently descending Highway curls around the northern cape of Cowley Ridge. It is an impressive sight, the parade of turbine-topped towers marching along the crest of the Ridge, their rotors lazily sweeping energy from the ever-present west wind. They are of two sizes; enormous and larger. The enormous ones, the older, rise to 24 metres on latticed steel masts, their three black-bladed, counter clockwise-spinning fibre-glass rotors spanning a diameter of 33 metres. The larger ones stand on tubular steel masts 43 metres high and carry clockwise-spinning white rotors of 60 metre-diameter. The first 25 were set up by Kenotech Limited of San Francisco and commissioned in 1993. To output their 375 kW each, they used Kenotechs own generator, the KVS-33M. A further 27 KVS-33Ms were added by The Chinook Project, Inc. and the Peigan Nation in 1994, and the last 20 were installed by the sites new owner, the Calgary-based Canadian Hydro Developers, Inc., in 2000 and 2001. Of these, 15 are of the larger, quieter variety: German-made Nordex N60s generating 1300 megaWatts each. Working with an average annual efficiency of 35%, the whole site, North and South, contributes almost 23 megaWatts to the Alberta electricity grid, enough to power some 6,000 homes. Of this output, 86% is contracted to TransAlta Energy Corporation, a few megawatts go to Shell Canada and the rest are sold on the energy spot market.
Some 70 kilometres to the south-eastward from Cowley Ridge, shining Chief Mountain, five kilometres into Montana, is, according to the Piikani, the home of the fire-eyed Thunderbird which torments rain clouds to tears with great slaps of its wings. Seen from the eastern slopes of the Ridge, the Chief is the mountain farthest east, sticking out like a snaggled tooth in the lithic grin of the Rockies. Away eastward, mountain swells of the foothills melt into the true Prairies. As far as the eye can see, squared into contrasting patches coloured by industrial agriculture, is what Canadian geographers call the Third Prairie Level, the Alberta Plateau. At this latitude, directly east for 900 miles until the Great Plains regime fetches up on the pre-Cambrian igneous rocks of the Canadian Shield in northern Ontario, the terrain, but for local variations in landscape, is pretty much the same. From 3850 feet at Cowley, the Plateau dips to around 2400 feet at the edge of the Missouri Coteau in Saskatchewanthe Second Prairie Stepwhich drops the Plains down to 2,000 feet easing to 1500 at the Manitoba border where the First Prairie Step takes the topography down to about 1100 feet. The low average elevation on the First Prairie Level is 850 feet where the Red Rivers valley opens out onto the great Manitoba lakes.
A hundred million years ago, visitors to this location on the Globe would have had gills or the ability to hold their breath for extended periods. This area was covered by a warm ocean, the bed of which was accumulating zillions of generations of corpses, large and small, animal and vegetable, covering them with layers of muck and calcium from decaying shell. Æons saw gigantic coral reefs in the Oceans shallows buried and squeezed full of petroleum as tectonics sculpted the regions fundament. Repeatedly the sea level rose and fell, forest after forest, temperate and tropical, lived and died and was buried and compressed; dinosaurs and their kin ruled and perished. Around the time of the Great Apocalypse that destroyed the Terrible Lizards 65 million years ago, writes Chester Beaty in his afore-mentioned The Landscapes of Southern Alberta - A Regional Geomorphology, tectonics thrust the Rockies into the sky. The process washed millions of tons of sediments into the Ocean, depositing layer upon layer of shale and sandstone upon the marine sediments. The same events that raised the Rockies gradually lifted the Oceans floor beyond Neptunes reach. Drained and dried, the former sea beds developed soils which hundreds of thousands of years of precipitation leached clean of salt, resulting in a proto-prairie. Around 25 million years BP, a general subsidence caused the out-flowing mountain streams to begin to cut into these prairies, carving channels, washing mountain materials farther east. Resistant sediments, reports Beaty, and the caprice of the streams preserved the Porcupine Hills as high lands, along with the Milk River Ridge to the south and the Cypress Hills far to the east. Then Pleistocene Epoch glaciers inched down from the what is now the Canadian Shield and licked icy tongues out from the cordillera on at least four separate occasions, pushing dirt around and reconfiguring the drainage, withdrawing their icy dozers from this area for the last time only some twenty thousand years ago. Sometimes dry, sometimes generously watered, the Plains nurtured herds of ungulates and selected the bison as the climax species, the largest modern land mammal in North America. Myriad herds in constant seasonal migration sustained a variety of carnivores from kit foxes to wolves to grizzlies. And Man.
In 1997 the old debate about just how the first Humans came to the Americas re-ignited, again bringing the Old North Road theory into dispute. Briefly, the Theory has it that during the last Ice Age so much of the Earths water was locked up in the continental glaciers that sea levels were occasionally low enough to expose the Bering Strait Land Bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Across the Bridge people came hunting mammoths. In his Native Peoples and Cultures of Canada (Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto, 1995), A.D. McMillan states that exactly when this occurred is undeterminable, for glaciation erased all evidence prior to about 30,000 years before present. Having made it to Alaska, the Theory has it, these people moved southwards along a corridor that periodically opened between the Rockies and the fringes of the great Laurentide ice mass when a few years of warmer weather caused the latter to retreat. This corridor was the Great North Road. Now, however, some scholars are beginning to embrace the notion that proto-Indians hop-scotched down the West Coast from Asia, suggesting that the reason that there is no evidence of their passing is that shorelines have shifted inland with the filling of the ocean basins with glacial meltwaters. The upshot of the argument is that there were lots of people on the Americas before the last ice age and these folks followed the herds which expanded their ranges northward with the retreating ice. Whatever: archæology indicates that the Prairies was a hunters paradise where an able bodied and moderately skilled family rarely went hungry.
Eastward the Highway drifts down Cowley Ridge and onto a bed of rich lacustrine soils, the gift of the melting glaciers. A mile or two from the Village of Cowley, a large, rusticated roadside point of interest sign swings from its chains in the Prairie breeze. In text both English and Russian it outlines how Nick and Mary Maloff were the first of some 300 DoukhoborsNastasias Partywho arrived in the Lundbreck-Cowley area in 1915 from their communes in B.C.. Mainly on an enormous block of land on the doab between the Castle and Crowsnest rivers that they bought from F.W. Godsal, they set up 13 self-sufficient villages amid their developing farms.14 At Cowley they built a large grain elevator,15 bought the struggling Pincher Creek Mill and Elevator Companys flour mill and moved it to Lundbreck, and operated a warehouse in Blairmore from which they sold produce from the Sects communes in BC, including their famous KC Brand jams. They bought the A.H. Knight store in Cowley as a community centre. By 1917 the Cowley commune had accumulated some 13,000 acres formerly belonging to the Godsal ranch, the Terrill ranch, the Eddy place, the Simister place, and the Irelade place. To bring the land to peak production, the Doukhobors practiced irrigation and worked it with heavy machinery, eventually owning and operating six steam-powered traction engines and the first Caterpillar tractor in the District. Working coöperatively, they were very successful, and come 1932 the communes assets were valued at $605,000. Though their neighbours admired the sects magnificent Percheron draft horses and herds of purebred shorthorn cattle, they envied their success, resented their communist-Christian ideals, and made the Doukhobors the constant target of petitions aimed at their removal as Commie stooges and instigators. It was from the inside, however, that the Sect weakened. Unknown assassins killed the Doukhobor autocratic leader, Peterthe Lordly Verigin near Castlegar, BC, in 1924. In the three years it took his son, Peter the Purger, to arrive in Canada from the Soviet Union to assume his fathers place, the Sect began to fragment. Peter, jr., could not reverse the trend. Creditors began to fear that the Sect, with out the Lordlys business acumen, would not be able to repay loans. Pressure began to build as the Depression bit into North Americas economy. In 1934 the Purger, surrendered his leadership role in the business affairs of the Alberta communes. With the Sect staggering towards inevitable bankruptcy, its main note-holders, the National Trust Company and the Sun Life Assurance Company, foreclosed in 1937 and began trying to recover their investments of over $300,000. One avenue was to offer the communes remaining assets to its members. About two-thirds of those in the Cowley Colony accepted the offer, buying their lands and eventually assuming the typically individualistic lifestyle of the Prairie farm family. At the end of the millennium, however, relatively few families of Doukhobor descent remain in the Cowley area, having left behind only memories, a graveyard and prayer hall in Lundbreck.
Nestled into the hollow of the hill to the south along whose brow the windmills march, a homestead is dominated by a large, Gambrell-roofd domicile which, if not directly associated with the Doukhobors, is certainly reminiscent of their habitations.
Cowley (1170m), all 300 acres of it, sits on flat land on the north side of the Highway. For years, one of Western Canadas favourite calendar photos was an oblique aerial featuring Cowleys blood-brown Alberta Wheat Pool elevators against the dramatic wall of the snow-scarred Livingstone Range. The elevators, the most westerly on the Alberta portion of the Crows Nest Line, are no more, and without them the town is not nearly as appealing: a typical Prairie village, a mundane collection of mostly houses scattered on ten urban blocks sandwiched between the Highway and the parallel CPRs tracks on the north. Without its elevators, the Village struggles to catch the eye of a passing motorist.
Facing the Highway is an eatery which has recently adopted the name The Millview Restaurant and Pub. In 2006 it is again deserted, its windows dusty and vacant. Beside it is an Atlas gas station with a convenience store. Cowleys old central business district is two blocks north on Railway Avenue. There survives the Co-op Hardware and Food Store, which has moved into newer accommodations, leaving its old two-storey building to be fixed up as apartments by some local entrepreneurs. The B/A service station is now the Village office and shops.
Cowley, despite its unimposing appearance, is a locale of some note in Western history. Massacre Butte, some four kilometres north of town overlooking the confluence of the Oldman and the Crowsnest Rivers, is the site of a tragic event more typical of frontier history in the United States than in Canada. In 1867 a waggon train of settlers bound for Oregon left Minnesota under the stewardship of a Captain J.A. Fiske. At Fort Benton, on the Missouri River in what is now Montana, a couple of possibly Dutch families led by John Hoise, hearing of gold strikes on the North Saskatchewan River near Fort Edmonton, decided to break away from the main party and sneak north through Blackfoot territory in a bid to get to the bonanza. They got as far as the Butte before being discovered by a patrol led by the fearsome Blood war chief, Medicine Calf. There are two versions of the encounter. The Hollywoodized story would have us believe that the Whites circled their waggons on top of the Butte and fought desperately for two days until their ammunition ran out whereupon they were over-run and exterminated save for one little blonde girl who subsequently died in a argument over her possession, her scalp for years remaining among the Bloods as evidence of the encounter. The other story has it that Medicine Calf held his men undetected until dark and then infiltrated them into the unsuspecting Whites camp to quietly cut the throats of 12 peaceful sleepers.
Its bloody history notwithstanding, Europeans eventually flooded into the neighbourhood. Among the first were the big-time ranching Garnett family who grazed their cattle on the endless plains of prairie wool and meadows of bunchgrass which grew to the height of a horses belly. The fertility of the soil convinced two waves of erstwhile Nouveau-Brunswick and Québécois farmers to settle on the flats hereabout, called akaai-sowkaas by the local Blackfoot people, many prairie turnips. In 1882 Moise and Julia LaGrandeur arrived, along with Alex Vieux Barbeau, who ranged his horses throughout the region wherever the grass grew greenest.16 That year, too, wrote Mary-Jo Burles and Marjorie Haugen in their Centennial Year booklet, Cowley: 60 Years a Village19061966, Eduard La Feves came, Max Brouillet brought a small herd of sturdy coaching horses and a six-gun with him,17 and the Lavesseur family settled. The Remi Beauvais family18 arrived and settled to the south at the lake now named for them, and their daughter Louise Mongeon and her husband, Joseph, and his brother, Germain, came, too, the Mongeons building their homestead in the lee of Cowley Ridge and running a few cattle. Not all the settlers who arrived in 1882 were of French descent, however. Notes Kay LeGrandeur in her E-mail to the author on 2005/04/02, Lew and Pete Murray with Whistler Milligan helped drive in the settlers horses.
Though inaction was much to their disadvantage, the ranchers really didnt do much to discourage farmers from squatting on the level land around here, and in 1887, a second wave of French families arrived, among them the LeBoeufs, the Garneaus, and the Lémieuxs. Alphonse Bouthillier, and Philip and Adeline Fortier settled in the area, and with them, according to the recollections of Ernest McEwan preserved in The Pincher Creek Historical Societys 1974 effort, prairie grass to mountain pass: History of the Pioneers of Pincher Creek and District, was the Charles La Fontaine family. Local ranch hands, with the tacit approval of their employers, made several efforts to discourage this last group from setting rootsrunning cattle across planted fields and going so far as to pull apart the La Fontaines nearly-completed log cabin. The family persevered, however, and pre-empted and proved up by cultivating additional quarters in the name of their sons Henri and Michel. The 87 arrivals, along with the Mongeons, old Barbeau and the nearby LaGrandeurs, endowed the neighbourhood with enough of a Gallic presence that it became known as French Flats.
By the time that the James Carney family arrived on the Flats in 1892, some acres of sod had been broken and crops were being sown. Carney contracted Moise Thibert, one of the La Fontaine clan, to break a field on Cowley Flats and began to farm. With a number of their children of school age, regional residents moved to set up a school district. Fredk W. Godsal, the rancher who had originally owned the Flats and the surrounding area, had accommodated himself so well to the loss of his lease piecemeal to the settlers homesteads that when it came to naming the District, his suggestion of Cow-leaperhaps in reference to a poem he had read, perhaps after his English home in Oxfordshire, England, perhaps to commemorate a visit from a pal of his, Lord Cowleywas accepted. In 1896, reports insist, a log cabin school was opened at someones farmstead a mile or two west of the present townsite. When the CPR laid in the steel of its 8th siding west from Fort Macleod on its Crows Nest Line in the spring of 1898, an employee soon came along and slapped a crude sign reading Cowley on the up-bound train side of the temporary depôt.
According to Diana Wilson in her Railroad Through the Crowsnest (Triumph and Tragedy in the Crowsnest Pass, ed. Diana Wilson, Heritage House Publishing, Surrey, BC, 2005), the P. Burns and Company pastured cattle near what was to become Cowley even before the CPR had laid its rails. Burns had the contract to supply meat to the Railways construction crews, and leased pasturage in the Cowley area as a staging area from which to drive herds of some 60 head each westward along CPs tote road to the camps up to seven times a month to meet the demand.
Nova Scotian Jas. Erskine Davison, after a stint working at D.B. DeWolfs sawmill near the confluence of what is now the Crowsnest River and the Old Man,19 arrived at Cowley before the townsite had been surveyed, even, according to the Memories he penned in his 82nd year (1957), before the sign had been hung on the station. Davison liked the site and enquired of the C.P.R. Land Company in Winnipeg into the possibility of buying a lot upon which to erect a stores building. The Company was certainly willing to sell but was too busy to survey the townsite, so it merely sent Davison some basic measurements to enable him to locate his structure on what would become Railway Avenue, and bade him build it so that it could be shifted onto a lot once the survey was completed. With some rough lumber from DeWolfs mill and the assistance of a helpful Piikani and an itinerant carpenter, Davison soon had his store closed in and stocked from supplies out of the North West Jobbing Company in Lethbridge, some 80 miles east. A pair of fellow Nova Scotians, carpenter Ed. Faulkner and blacksmith Homer Morrison, joined Davison in the spring of 1899 and a tiny settlement began to grow, Faulkner building many of the structures, including the one opposite Davisons store wherein Morrison set himself up in the agricultural implement business. After a bridge was thrown across Bouthilliers ford on the nearby Oldman River in 1899, traffic through the settlement increased significantly. By then the townsite had been surveyed and was generally known as Cowley, this name becoming official when the Post Office permitted Davison to open a local bureau in his store on April 1st, 1900.
Cowley in 1903 was becoming a place of some substance, a considerable number of the new residents hailing from Nova Scotia. Davison helped many a fellow bluenoser find a job on nearby ranches: Angus Forbes, Wendell Fulton, Will Nelson, Harland and Freeman Lank, Jo Creelman. Hilbert Knight arrived with his Mrs. to open a store and board roomers in their large new house. Davison installed an Oddfellows Lodge on the upper floor of the new store he had built on his lot, relegating the original structure to a warehouse.
The community hosted its first polo gymkhana on May 24th of 1903 (won by the North Fork team). Probably the year before, Messrs. Murray and Grey had built the two-storeyd, gable roofed Cowley Hotel to shelter a magnificent 60 foot long bar with brass boot rail and polished cuspidors. Come 1904 the three-storey Alberta Hotel was in business, having been raised by Mrs. Drews and either Fred Bridgett or Jack Mason, or maybe both. Mrs. Carney was subsidizing her familys farming income by running a boarding house in town. There were two butcher shops, and U.C. Reece had opened a branch of the Union Bank. In 1900 a multi-denominational church had been raised and by 1904 it had become the Methodist meeting place, and beside it on Cameron the Presbyterians built their church. There was at least one livery stable, and Morrisons machinery and blacksmith shop did a good trade. A sign of a progressive community, wooden sidewalks ran along the commercial side of Railway Avenue and down the main streets for a few yards.
The year of 1906 was Cowleys banner year. By a provincial Order-in-Council read on August 16th, the settlement was declared a Village. It was gazetted on the following 15th and Percy James Pistol Pete Biddell, owner with one of the Kemmis family of one of Cowleys four livery stables, was appointed as the first Overseer. Responding to the Dominion census conducted that year, 100 hundred families or individuals claimed Cowley as their home. In September the Alberta Pacific Grain Company completed its towering elevator on Railway Avenue. With Annie Fulton as the first teacher, a school house was built on the Cowley townsite in 1908 so children would no longer have to traipse across the windswept prairie to the log cabin school west of town. A pair of gentlemen by the name of Woods and Steele had been contracted to lay in a water distribution system. The flow from the spring at which they placed their little reservoir was, however, unreliable. The system was of little help when the Alberta caught fire in 1909 and burned to the ground. That year, too, Canon Mowat added St. Aidens Anglican (now St. Aidens and St. Chads) to Cowleys congregation of churches. The CPR built a new station in 1910 (salvaged, note Bohi and Kozma in Canadian Pacifics Western Depôts: The Country Stations of Western Canada, in 1971). In 1911 the Village got a telephone system, and in 1912, the year that Bill Tustain began his 50-year career as blacksmith in Cowley, the Village welcomed the Honourable G.H.V. Bulyea, lieutenant-governor of Alberta, who had come to watch the High River team win the MacMillan(?) Cup in the Western Canada Polo Championship played that year on the Flats. The big school was raised in 1913 and staff hired to teach students to the grade 11 level. In October of 1914 Davisons original store building went up in flames and with it the new post office/telephone exchange, Pettits restaurant and C.N. Cyrs boucherie. Only the efforts of a 50-man CPR grading crew which through its might into the fight saved the Village from complete destruction.
Thanks largely to the influx of industrious Doukhobors into the area, burned buildings were soon replaced. The Union Bank continued to maintain an office, assuring Cowleys commercial dominance of nearby Lundbreck long after it became part of the Royal Bank group in September of 1925. The United Farmers of Alberta, formed in 1909 as a progressive farmers advocacy movement, had set up a cö-operative [I-H1949Web.JPG]store in Cowley in 1914. It survived the Fire and in 1916 would begin selling retail to the general public. The settlement expanded, its populace casting 48 anti-prohibition votes in Albertas 1915 plebiscite, 53 pro.
With his tall-wheeled Big Four tractor, Tom Shepherd continued to custom break virgin sod around the countryside for farmers right up into the 30s, much of it for the Doukhobors whose influence infused the area. The Sect bought A.H. Knights old store and converted it into their community hall immediately upon beginning to arrive in the neighbourhood in 1915. They erected a grain elevator beside the Alberta and Pacifics on Railway Avenue.
In 1927 the Calgary Roman Catholic diocese contracted Lemire and Turcotte of Lethbridge to build St. Josephs20 across the alley from the Presbyterian church. The Alberta Wheat Pool built a 35,000-bushel elevator on Railway Avenue in 1929. The Cowley School burned in 1933 and around the same time the Cowley Hotel met a similar fate. The school was rebuilt, and one Mr. Hornig bought a hotel standing under-used in Arrowwood, Alberta, and had it moved over 100 miles to replace the Cowley. Fifteen kilometres north of the Village in 1938 the Department of Transport laid out a lazy X of grass landing strips, one being the longest on the Trans-Canada Airway. More or less an emergency field, it was also, at nearly 3900 feet above sea level, the highest on the Airway. The DOT abandoned the field in 1960 and most of the buildings were moved to the Pincher Creek Airport some 20 miles to the south south-east. The landing strips and basic campground are now operated by local Alberta gliding clubs who promote the thrill of mountain wave soaring in the ideal conditions between the Livingstones and the Porcupine Hills. In 1941 Alvin Murphy strung a power line grid in Cowley and connected it to the East Kootenay Power generating plant on Crowsnest Lake at Sentinel. In January of 1942 the Alberta Pacific elevator caught fire and 55,000 bushels of grain roared in flames into the night sky. It was rebuilt by that March. In 1954, the year that the Village bought Murphys power system, the high school students began attending classes in Lundbreck, and with the completion of Livingstone School there in 1959, Cowley School closed. All the kids still go up the Crowsnest Highway to school. In 1962, a year after the Johnson Brothers mill started operations and began putting some cash in Cowleys pockets, the Village installed a reliable water system and followed in with a sewerage system the year following. The CPR removed its original station which it had been using as a catch-all in 1966 and five years later the Company salvaged Cowleys new station. Since, through good times and bad, Cowley has earned its living from grain, cattle and trees.
In the year 2006 Cowley is struggling. Just to the east of the Village is the weathered ruin of the ancient Johnson Brothers sawmill is gone, leaving only an yawning concrete basement foundation. Established in 1961 on a 55-acre lot, Johnson Bros. sawed, planed and milled the Douglas fir, spruce and pines cut in the Porcupine Hills and the valley of the Oldman until 1981. Four years later local entrepreneurs organized Cowley Forest Products, Limited, and began operations on a property located adjacent the Johnson property to the east. It owned a kiln and could custom dry lumber. The company eventually bought the name Johnson Brothers for goodwill purposes. In November of 2002, however, thanks to the embargo imposed upon softwood imports by the Americans in the spring of that year, CFP/Johnson Bros. closed and in the February following auctioned off its equipment. In the fall of 2006, this process is pretty well complete and the buildings are beginning to come down. With the mills demise, the Village lost its industrial base and families began to leave.
At present Cowley offers no overnight accommodation other than camping. At the glider strip 10 mostly gravelled miles north of town on Secondary 510 there are several unserviced campsites. There is, as well, the Castle River Provincial Recreational Area Campground south of Cowley some 10 Kay on the patchily paved South Fork Road.
Opposite the junction of the Highway with Secondary 510 on the east side of Cowley, travellers can desert the Highway and travel, roughly paralleling Cowley Ridge, the South Fork Road, the old Highway, to Pincher Station.
Parcelling the Prairies
Though Mr. Rush of the United States and Mr. Bagot of Great Britain had agreed in 1817 that the forty-ninth degree of Parallel north between Lake o the Woodsin what is now the Province of Ontario and the State of Minnesotawest to the Continental Divide would constitute the boundary between British and American spheres of influence in the heart of North America, nothing was done about marking the Line for more than 50 years. What need? The Prairies were empty of Whites except for the occasional HBC explorer or American fur trapper who were likely only happy to meet each other and swap stories rather than dispute whose territory they were on. Indians, of course, could not even relate to the concept of anyone actually owning the Earth. The idea was unheard of. Control of hunting grounds; yes: but sovereign possession of soil? Ludicrous; it belonged to the Creator. That was not, however the prevailing belief in the Euro-American power centres. Land was for occupation, and with population pressures building in Europe and the United States, it was only a matter of time before the West was divvied up.
The Hudsons Bay Company had long known that most of Ruperts Land as barren of furs. When, as the date for the renewal of its charter approached influential London minds began to wonder if perhaps the HBC was liable for keeping order in the Land, the Coys directors began planning a strategy to divest It of the burden. The last thing they needed was the expense of policing so vast a territory for no real gain. How to profit from the transaction was the question, and still maintain access to their old stomping grounds. The answer presented itself on July 1st, 1867, when the Dominion of Canada was inaugurated, a loyal British proxy with a vested interest in owning the West. On May 8th, 1871, when the administration of U.S. president Grant signed the Treaty of Washington recognizing Canada as a country, thoughts turned towards marking the Line across the plains. To that end the parties involved established an International Boundary Commission21 and set to work.
It was no small undertaking; trekking unvaryingly due west across the wilderness, building cairns every half mile and a crude road along which to haul supplies, camping at sites assigned by geographic dictate rather than comfort. The Canadians fielded some 300 men to form the survey party, plus a group of scouts to locate sufferable camping places and shoot fresh meat. To ensure accuracy, the United States sent a crew of 250 surveyors protected by two troops of General G. A. Custers Seventh Cavalry and five companies of Infantry. Beginning from the Red River in May of 1873, this huge contingent marked its way westward, reaching the Continental Divide22 by summers end of the next year. With a cairn or a high earthen mound every couple of miles along it, the International Boundarythe Medicine Linewas clearly defined.
Long before that task had been completed, even before Ruperts Land was legally under Canadian control, surveyors had been busy on the British Prairies. Sent out to grid the north-west into cardinally-aligned blocks of one by one-mile squares as was being done in the U.S., the first thing the surveyors did was establish the First Principal (Winnipeg) Meridian by marking a due north-south line of reference on the landscape at 97 degrees, 27 minutes and 28.4 seconds west of the Prime Meridian at Greenwich, England: just on the eastern skirts of the old Selkirk Colony in the valley of the Red River. This precipitated the Red River Resistance in the autumn of 1869.23 With the uprising quelled by next years summer, Department of the Interior surveyors began to divide up the arable regions of its N-WT preparatory to settlement. According to Douglas Kemp in The Special Survey which he wrote for the April, 1958 edition of the Manitoba Historical Societys, Manitoba Pagent, west of Greenwich 102º was designated the Second Principal Meridian, 106º W was the Third Meridian, and 110º the Forth. Several Base Lines parallel to the Boundary were established, and from these and the Principals, exactly north-south/east-west, the skeleton of the legal grid24 was stepped out along the fertile belt of mixed treed-grasslands arcing from Manitoba towards Fort Edmonton. By 1877 the skeleton was largely completed, and detailed surveys of the most attractive agricultural terrain were being established.
Based on the square milea section, comprised of four quarters of 160 acres eachthe Whitemans portion of the Prairies was broken up into six mile square townships, with (by the time the system was applied to Alberta) 66 foot-wide north-south road allowances between every stack of sections, and east-west allowances between every pair. Not all allowances boast roads, of course, but where there are, they are at cardinally correct right angles to each other. To find north, you stand with your back to the midday sun, and the fence line that heads away from you runs due North. But for Parks and Reserves, every square foot of Prairie land is accounted for in the system.
Not all sections, of course, were available for pre-emption by settlers. By the agreement of sale for Ruperts Land, the Hudsons Bay Company got one and three-quarters sections in every Township: to wit, section eight and section 26 minus the north-east quarter.25 Two sections, 11 and 29, were designated school lands, the rental income or the proceeds of the sale of which was to be used to endow educational institutions. If the Township was one of those within a belt eight townships wide centred on the mainline of a railway, every remaining odd section was granted to said railway, with conditions. The even-numbered sections were thrown open to pre-emption by settlers, and the HBC and the CPR both, of course, would turn down no reasonable offer for any number of quarter-sections of their lands.
Having digested that, travellers find that not far out of Cowley, South Fork Road diverges from the surveyed grid and commences to wander its way down into the valley of the Castle River and its rather scantily treed and showerless Castle River Provincial Recreational Area Campground. The Castle, not having served water and sewerage services to any towns, is still relatively clean at this point. Aware that there is such a thing as Beaver Fevera miserable infection of the bowel caused by the parasite Giardia lamblia normally found in the gut of wild animals and deposited in pristine waters by the none to careful hygienic habits of aforementioned animalsa traveller would be well advised to not drink the Castle raw. But to bathe in it after a hot, dusty, sweaty day perched on the saddle of a touring cycle, one should have no qualms: except that, you know, cardiac arrest can be triggered by immersion in water as icy as the Castles. Refreshing, though, if you survive.
A few miles upstream, on Gladstone Creek near its confluence with the Castle, is the site of Mountain Mill, the lumbering operation that John Kean set up for the Indian Branch in 1879.
Kootenay and Alberta Railway
Crossing the Castle, South Fork Road meanders back up out of the valley and heads exactly east past Pincher Creeks little airfield to Pincher Station, about eight kilometres down No.3 from Cowley. Somewhere the Road crosses the now invisible right-of-way of the Kootenay and Alberta Railway, a 15 mile-long short line which cost the Belgian-owned, Montréal-based Western Coal and Coke Company (WC&C) nearly a half million 1911 dollars to build to connect its works at Beaver Mines to Kandary, a long-gone junction on the Crows Nest Line about two kilometres west of Pincher Station.
As the Western Oil and Coal Company, WC&C first interested itself in southern Alberta in December of 1903 when it drilled three oil wells in the Cameron Creek region in what is now Waterton Park, some 35 miles south from Cowley. The venture was unsuccessful, and spectacularly so in the case of one well which blew out, contaminating water downstream as far away as Lethbridge. In 1907 the Company tried again, this time on a prospect just north of Pincher Station. Nothing but gas was discovered. Disappointed by the petroleum business, WC&C changed its name and resolved to concentrate on coal mining. After determining that the coal would meet the CPRs steaming specifications, in 1909 the company acquired a couple of gopher hole operations on a tributary of the Castle River at what became Beaver Mines. A modern mine was immediately drifted into the main seam on the left bank of Beaver Creek, buildings raised and production begun. By 1911 a second mine on the other side of the Creek was producing. The lieutenant-general of Alberta, the Honourable George Hedley Vicars Bulyea, had assented to 1909 (9 Edward VII) Chapter 44, An Act to Incorporate Kootenay and Alberta Railway Company26 (K&A) on February 25th, 1909, but financially constrained by the need to develop its mines, WC&C did not immediately begin building the road, relying on waggons to roll its coal to the CNL for the first years of its existence. This bottleneck in its production obviously choked the companys profitability, and having won approval for the alignment of a railroad from the Board of Railway Commissioners in February of 1911, WC&C engaged Grant Smith and Company out of Spokane, WA, to construct the line under the direction of civil engineer L.B. Merriam. For a soggy year crews graded and trestled the K&A across the grain of some of the most daunting railroading terrain in Alberta. On June 25th, 1912, according to Geoffrey Lester on the K&A page of the beautiful on-line version of the Atlas of Alberta Railways (University of Alberta Press, Edmonton, 2005), the steel was pounded into Beaver Mines. Coupled with another half million dollars worth of improvements to its surface plant, WC&C was poised to profit. Unfortunately, the K&A proved extremely troublesome, especially the enormous trestle27 over Gladstone (Mill) Creek which had, sadly, been constructed with green timber that began shrinking and twisting even as the last bolts were being tightened. Whilst in the process of righting that problem, the company saw its markets evaporate as Europe girded for war, withdrawing development money from the North American economy. In 1913 WC&C was forced to shut down its mine. An outfit called Canadian Coal and Coke Company (CC&C) assumed control of the works, and though it bought at least one new Montreal Locomotive Works 4-6-028 for the line and supposeèdly sunk $23,000 into the construction of a hotel at Beaver Mines, extracted little coal, possibly concentrating on maintaining the works with an eye to a future re-opening. On March 26th, 1915, however, CC&C shut down operations, turning the assets over to North American Collieries, Limited, which salvaged the equipment in 1917, the rails of the K&A being torn up and sent to France to serve on the Western Front, the (in)famous trestles dismantled. Into the 1950s local entrepreneurs engaged in gopher-hole mining to satisfy the neighbourhood market, but with the introduction of natural gas to the region, this activity died out. In the early 1970s some Japanese investors evaluated the remaining reserves, but concluded that the costs of redevelopment and transportation of the output were prohibitive.
Eastward from Cowley, the Crowsnest Highway, its shoulders wide, zooms across the levels of the Pincher Creek basin. The double dip of the castle River valley is a surprise test of the cyclists stamina.
Next: PINCHER CREEK