Away from Brocket eastbound, the Highway angles north-east across the PiikaniPeiganreserve, much of it thinly-soiled, glacial gravel lakebed. To the South, the Plains roll away like a sea of giant waves threatening the beacon of Chief Mountain on the horizon. The Rockies, the Backbone of the World in Blackfoot lore, slowly sink on the horizon, distaining the protection of foothills, leaping up out of the rolling green: Fortress B.C. Eastward the grassy sea begins to calm and flatten, while to the North, beyond the Oldman, the rough horizon of the Porcupine Hills ends abruptly.
At the south-eastern prominence at the Porcupine Hills, some 18 kilometres north of Highway 3, is one of the pre-eminent archæological sites in the world; the Head-Smashed-In buffalo jump, where 300 generations of Aboriginal hunters stampeded herds of bison over the bluff and butchered the animals where they fell on the flats below. Scholarly excavation was begun here by the famous archæologist, Boyd N.D. Wettlaufer, et al in the 1940s. In 1968 the Canadian government finally recognized the importance of the site by declaring it a National Historical Site. In 1981 UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site. Just how essential the bison were to Amerindians is detailed at arresting, multi-tiered interpretive centre opened in the summer of 1987. At their present eleven metre height, the bluffs are impressive. But when one considers that 6,000 years of debris has raised the level of the Plain eleven metres, one can imagine how really effective this hunting technique must have been. At the Centre, one will find out that it was no simple matter to get a herd of bison running, and keep it running, in the right direction. Aboriginal hunters engineered a sophisticated complex of some 30 V shaped runways demarcated by over 12,000 cairns to help them direct animals to the Jump. Runners disguised in bison robes risked their lives in front of the rushing herd, guiding it along the proper path, while other Runners in wolf skins threatened the bisons flanks to keep the herd bunched. With hazers hiding behind strategic cairns and jumping up and waving flags at the appropriate moment, the herd, up to five hundred strong, was run to its doom. At the base of the bluffs waited the butchers to dispatch the injured and begin the process of stocking the Tribes larder. So efficient was this method of harvesting bison that it was used well into the firearm era, the last jump being conducted around 1860.
Past the siding of Choklo and some 20 kilometres northeast of Brocket, the Crowsnest Highway exchanges the windswept fringes of the Piikani Reserve for the windswept fringes of the Municipal District of Willow Creek. Approaching Stowe, now nothing more than a place-name on the Railway, the Highway climbs a bit onto a deposit of glacial outwash and top the low ridge which separates the watershed of the Pincher Creek from that of the Belly River. Its a view point. To the south the outwash builds higher and drier. Beyond the reaches of the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation Districts distribution ditches, only where someone manages to water them do trees grow. Before us, beyond the valley of the Oldman River, lies the wide Prairie.
The Old North Road and the HBC
The valley of the Oldman River, its ancient river terraces noted by G.M. Hutt, the Montréal-based Development Commissioner of the CPR,1 widens, its waters shallowing in places to serviceable fords which have seen a variety of travellers from times ancient to modern. Having been crossing it since we left the Mountains, we are here on the western edge of what is called the Old North Road; that ancient braid of trails which has long trod the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies.
Picture people here 15,000 years ago, ragged little bands of tense hunter-gatherers, cold in the Winter, always hungry. An old woman has counted 30 summers: no-one sees 40. North-easterly, the massive Laurentide Ice Sheet of the Wisconsinan Era has crept down into the Willow Creek district on at least four separate occasions; advance, retreat, advance again, grinding down the high places and filling in the low. To the West, the Cordilleran Ice Sheet, a compilation of many mountain valley glaciers, extends a tongue down the Crowsnests valley, scouring it, occasionally licking into the side of the Laurentide for a century or two, blocking The Road. Oft times, according to the currently accepted hypothesis, the Cordilleran Sheet refused to venture from its sheltering mountains and a band of land along the foothills remained ice-free: a corridor from Alaska to the core of the continent. Tundra-grassed and populated with mastodons and mammoths, gigantic bison and miniature horses, the Corridor was a long oasis between the daunting Plains and the formidable Mountains, the track down which clans of Homo sapiens slowly migrated towards warmer southern climes.
The ragged little family of palæo-Indians would not have known that the Laurentide Sheet rarely reached much farther south than the course of the Old Man Rivers valley, and 15,000 years Before Present it was about to beat its final retreat. By 20,000 years ago it had vanished from this neighbourhood, leaving the topography as we see it but for a few aquatic alterations to the drainage channels. A millennium and a half later, the poplar and spruce forests which had advanced upon the retreating ice to clothe the naked land were giving way to grasses as the region dried under the inflowing warm Pacific winds. The itinerant bands of humans who eked out a living hunting in the woods either adapted to the new regime or wandered away. The sabre-toothed cat and giant sloth died out, bison diminished in size and became intensely gregarious, providing the humans who chose the Prairie life with a well-stocked pantry.
Learning from the First Nations peoples who had followed the Mountains north and south for generations, when Whites first ventured this far west, they naturally used the Corridor, the Old North Road. Philip Turnor and David Thompson, exploring the West at the behest of their employers, the HBC, wandered from the North Saskatchewan down the Road to the Bow River in 1787. Peter Fidler followed their route five years later, coming as far down as the line of the Crowsnest Highway. The Niitsi-tapithe Blackfootproved to be volatile trading partners, and the Coy resolved to leave the Tribe alone, even entering into an agreement in 1833 with the American Fur Company which permitted the latter to trade into that corner of Ruperts Land occupied by the Niitsi-tapi.
With the establishment of riverboat service to Fort Benton in 1860, the HBC began to ponder the suitability of the Missouri-Mississippi system as an alternative route to and from Ruperts Land. In the summer of 1870 the chief factor of Fort Edmonton, Richard Chas. Hardisty, loaded up several Red River cartstwo high-wheeled, all wood contraptionswith part of the winters fur collection and dispatched them squealing south down the Road to the Missouri. The experiment was not repeated, but waggoneers in the employ of trading companies at Fort Benton soon pressed the route into service to haul supplies to fire-water forts in what is now southern Alberta. After the N-WMP derailed that lucrative enterprise, traders filled their waggons with the thousands of dollars worth of supplies which the Mounties ordered through the T.C. Power & Bros. Company and the I.G. Baker & Company of Fort Benton, and continued to use the Old North Road.
The Road was not a single track; where the soil was soggy, waggoneers detoured far in search of solid ground. Out on the great Kainaa (Blood) Reserve south of Fort Macleod, wheel ruts carved into the unbroken Prairie are still visible. Up past the old camp of Leavingsnear present day Granum, on highway No. 2 some 16 miles north-west of Fort Macleodand on as far as Fort Calgary where the Swift (Elbow) River joins the Bow, the Road was serviceable for the heavy freight waggons; beyond, the constitution of the Prairie sod broke down quickly under weighted waggon wheels and carts or pack trains were more commonly used.
In the fall of 1890, the Alberta Railway and Coal Company inaugurated service on its Great Falls Railway between Lethbridge and northern Montana, and then, with the extension of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway (C&E) to West MacleodMekastoein November of 1892, bull-waggons found themselves quickly retired as supplies rolled on steel across the Prairies.
The Old North Road is still a major route, of course. The CPRs Aldersyde sub between High River and Lethbridge can, with latitude, be said to follow the Route, connecting to the Great Falls Railway, still in use and also a CPR possession. As well, Albertas major longitudinal highway, the No. 2, and its relievers, the 4 and the 5/62, trace the Past.
Nearing the Crowsnest Highways intersection with south-bound secondary 810, the alert traveller will have noticed another wind farm on the heights some five miles south. This is McBride Lake, reputed in 2003 to be the biggest installation of its kind in Canada. Owned half and half by TransAlta Corporations subsidiary, Vision Quest Windelectric, and the City of Calgarys ENMAX Corporation, the farm was begun in November of 2002 with the siting and construction of 114 pedestals of five-metre diameter sunk eight metres into the ground. Upon these were erected masts 40and, later, 50metres high upon which were perched Vestas Wind Systems V-47 turbines rated at 660 kiloWatts, the last of which was commissioned on June 21st, 2003. At that time the configuration of the Farm output 235,000 megaWatt hours per year, with plans for expansion.
Into Fort Macleod
Approached from the west, the long light of the photographers golden hour burnishing its buildings, Fort Macleod (945m) looks inviting, huddled on the south bank of the Oldman, five metres above the Rivers mean level, akaapiyoyismany houses in the Niitsi-tapi language.
About three miles out of Town, the Highway glides across the line of the extension which the CPR lofted across the Oldman River from the end of its Calgary and Edmonton Railway at West MacleodMekastoein 1897 to tie into the CNL. The last bridge, a 500 foot-long iron through-truss likely installed in 1911 to replace a 1906 structure, was so severely mauled by the spring floods of 1995 that it was nevermore used by trains. By 2001 the CPR had given up any pretence to repairing the structure, ripping up the lines remaining rails all the way back to High River, permanently assigning all Lethbridge traffic to the Aldersyde subdivision to the east. A mile or so beyond the line of the railroad crossing is the simple interchange which since 1994 has divided the Crowsnest Highway into four lanes and added to it the traffic of highway No. 2 for the two or three mile-long run to and through Fort Macleod. Almost due north 150 kilometres lies Calgary. Secondary 785, the road to Head-Smashed-In Interpretative Centre, is two miles up the No. 2, beyond the Oldman River Provincial Recreational Area and campground. The Site is west on 785 some 16 kilometres across Buffalo Plains, passing Buffalo Plains RV Park and Campground. A cyclist venturing out this way should be aware that local winds can tip over waggons.
Away from the Overpass, the No. 3, now in tandem with No. 2, passes tower-lighted Midnight Stadium and replicas of three of the North-West Mounted Police buildings erected in 2005 exactly where the originals stood until the 1920s. Entering the Town, the No. 3 passes a highway service community set on asphalt on its south side, and aligns itself due east to hustle across the six block-width of Town as Chief Red Crow Boulevard, the former 23rd Street. North two blocks runs Jerry Potts Boulevard, bringing the Highways through Town west-bound, and in between is old Main, now Colonel Macleod Boulevard., whereon most of the Towns charming old business buildings reside.
The Fort is, for its diminutive size, well stocked with accommodations. The up-scale, apartment-style Sunset Motel resides in the aforementioned service community, while gathered in the heart of Town around Fifth Avenue are several older auto court-style bungalow motels; the Kozy, DJ, the Fort, Century II, Red Coat Inn. For those wanting an authentic taste of old Fort Macleod, the big old three-story sand-stone Queens Hotel has held down the west end of Main Street since 1903 and still accommodates guests in recently refurbished rooms. However, the establishment does derive most of its income from the cold beer store and historic beer parlour taking up most of the ground floors ample area. If a bar-room full of hurtin music sobbing on your tympana in the wee hours only drives you deeper into Dreamland, check into the Queens.
Kitty-corner from the Queens and west a block past the frugal Heritage House Motel on the edge of Town is the brick-built American Hotel, actually the annex added in 1913 to the long-gone Klondyke Hotel, itself raised in the mid-1890s. Pernoctation was not possible in the American long before the building was locked up around the turn-of-the millennium, not even worth running the bar.
Theres just something about the ambiance of Fort Macleod that makes some folks want to pitch a tent: perhaps its the soil into which so many tipi pegs have been pounded over the centuries. There are four campgrounds. The infrastructure of the Oldman River Provincial Recreation Area, by the No. 2s bridge west of Town, has been replaced, the Flood of 1995 having scoured the site clean of man-made items. No showers. The Rivers Edge RV Park & Campground, opposite the Provincial on the east side of the No. 2, is rather spartan and within easy ear-shot of heavy traffic. It has showers, however, and offers the added bonus of close proximity to the Crows; Nest Line. The Daisy May Campground, nestled in the river-side Cottonwoods about a kilometre downstream from the Provincial, survives behind its levee. It was established in 1973 and to get there coming in from the west one can either come down on the valley-bottom Lyndon Road2 from the Rivers Edge RV Park & Campground past the golf coursethe oldest in the old North-Westor turn left off the No. 3/2 onto Lyndon just at the west end of Town, drop down the Rivers scarp past the brick, 1913 public works building3 and a half mile sees you to the Campground. Its a nice location, a thicket of Cottonwood and willow trees, deeply carpeted with grasses and wild flowers. On site are hot pay-showers, a pool, a coin laundry facility, barbeque pits, a mini-golf course and a few hard-roofed shelters for those not so clement nights when giant drops of Prairie rain smack your tents fly, searching for poorly-sealed seams. The fourth campground is a mile or so north on Secondary 811 from the north-east corner of Town. It is the minimalists campground, with little in the way of services.
According to a map in R.C. Hosies Native Trees of Canada (Fitzhenry and Whiteside Limited and the Canadian Forestry Service, Markham, Ontario, 1990), Fort Macleod is in the heart of the very small Canadian range of the Narrowleaf Cottonwood. If you are passing through in the early spring and notice what on a colder day you would conclude was snow drifting down from the Cottonwoods boughs, dont camp beneath them. The snow is thousands of clumps of fluffy seeds, each one with a dollop of sap exuding from the wound where the clump only seconds before was attached to its tree. Stickier n hell, during the Cottonwoods two-week long spring thing the sap glues fluff all over everything, a horrible mess, so hard to clean. When the fluff is falling, camp in the open.
All set up at Daisy Mays and redolent with mosquito repellent, having patrolled the levee to spy on the green-headed Northern Shovelers and yellow double-crested Horned Grebes quietly cruising through the back-water sedges and cat-tails, the traveller might head uptown for a bite to eat. The bus depôt on 2nd (Haultain) Avenue is a good breakfast place with its artistic Java Shop - Eat Out More Often neon sign and incongruous late art-deco facade with which Neil Boyle graced his hometown before heading off to become one of Hollywoods pre-eminent architects. On the north side of the Main is Johnnys Café, formerly The Rex, its antique tinwork ceiling having looked down on generations of customers. In 2003, John Tsai, the only genuine chef in town, presides over a kitchen whence comes all manner of eatables Oriental and Occidental. Nearly opposite the Rex is the Silver Grill, memorable for the patchy old tin-tiled ceiling and the ornate plate glass bar-mirror perforated by a fin de siècle bullet hole. East along or just off Main24th Street, Colonel Macleod Boulevardare several other places: the Igloo, Luigis, Westerner, New Hong Kong, Macleods, Aunty Lyndas Café and Grill , and elsewhere is the Stockmans Pub & Grill and Mooses Pub & Lounge.
At the north-eastern corner of Town old highway 2 uses the three steel truss through-spans of the Mackenzie Bridge to cross the Oldman River. Here since 1909, perhaps a successor to a 1905 structure, its iron work is presently painted turquoise and carries a longitudinally-laid wooden deck which groans and squeals in protest at the passage of heavy vehicles. It doesnt mind bicycles. In the Maxfield Parrish-blue of the evening still, the clear-noted song of a Yellow Warbler soothes the Oldman as his waters gently brush the rough concrete of the Bridges abutments. It was upon an island in this river that the North-West Mounted Police established their first post.
The United States of America had owned the watershed of the Mississippi RiverLouisianasince buying it from Napoléon in 1803. The Lewis and Clarke expedition overland to the mouth of the Columbia River two years later, and J.J. Astors fur trading gamble to the same destination in 1811, had, in the Americans view, legitimized their claims to the region. Little by little the citizens of the United States began embracing the notion that the entire North American continent was their god-given legacy. Twenty-two years after President James Monroes Doctrine of 1823 prohibited further European intervention in the Continent, the editor of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, J.L. OSullivan, coined the phrase Manifest Destiny to express this vision of one country under God with the Stars and Stripes flapping in the breeze from sea to sea to sea to the isthmus of Panama. Glibly bandied about in the political press, the idea seized the American imagination and resulted in trains of covered waggons carving ruts in the prairie sod as they hauled settlers and their ideals west to Oregon, Utah and California in the 1840s and 1850s. With them, especially after the American Civil War of 1860-65, came desperados intent on making a buck. American Mountain men had followed the wake of Lewis and Clark into the West. Intent on gathering fine furs for the European market, they had initiated trade with the Plains Indians. The failure of the felt fad in Europe roughly coincided with the industrialization of the United States. More and more leather belting was required to drive machines in factories, and by far the best leather, recounts B.D. Fardy in Jerry Potts, Paladin of the Plains (Mr. Paperback, Langley, B.C., n.d.), came from bison. To meet the demand, American inland traders had to industrialize their business, organizing companies and commissioning the construction of riverboats with which to haul the heavy hides home from the Plains. It was found that to ensure a steady supply of bison hides the Traders found that they had to get Indians involved in the enterprise, and to do that the Traders had to come up with a light, cheap trade item that the Plains Indians found irresistible. That item turned out to be booze.
The HBC was the conduit through which many Natives in British North America got their first taste of liquor with its strange and powerful effects. It flamed in a spoonfire-waterand burned in the mouth and all the way down, propelling the spirit to hazardous heights and frightening extremes. Like metal goods, tobacco, and firearms, booze became an item in demand. When the Montréal-based North West Company began contesting the fur trade in the 1790s, it, too, of course, offered alcohol for sale and as a gift, an unguent to ease exchange. Individual traders realized that it was an inconveniently dangerous practice; liquor in its wooden casks weighted about 90 pounds each and took up much space in a canoe or a sled. Too, the effects of alcohol could quickly escalate a minor misunderstanding into a fatal confrontation, and no-one wanted that, especially the lonely, lightly armed Traders paddling through a continent of proud Aboriginals. The Coalition of 1821 united the British fur trade under the banner of the HBC, and the new Company sought to curtail the use of spirits in Trade. But a tot of rum had become the expectednay; the demandedprecursor to the business of bargaining, and there was no way to completely withdraw it. In fact, later in the century, it had become the accepted medium of exchange. Staying at Fort Carlton during the Autumn of 1857, Dr. Jas. Hector of Pallisers expedition wrote in his journal that [t]he Indian hunters who supply the fort with meat arrived today to receive payment for the animals they have killed this autumn. The price of a buffalo is 3 gills of rum, and they bring dried meat, grease, skin, cords, etc., which they trade in addition. The whole fort is in a dreadful state of riot from the quantity of liquor which is being consumed, and the noise of the Indians drumming, howling and brawling is incessant at present. He observed a similar scene at Rocky Mountain House early the next year where the Siksikah had adopted the expedient of appointing one chief to remain sober during trade negotiations so that he could intervene in quarrels before too much blood fell.
The reason why, in 1861, the HBC finally decided to prohibit its servants from trading liquor to Native peoples, is complex. Booze in kegs was bulky and heavy, so a trend may have started with the trading servants individually deciding that they just werent going to include it in their stock. Partly to save space and weight in a canoe or a York boat, but also to remove dæmon rum from the commercial equation and thus spare themselves from the occasionally tragic consequences of their clients overindulgence. The trend away from booze evidently found sympathy in the Coys headquarters on Fenchurch Street in London. Partly, like the revulsion at slavery which had swept British society some 50 years earlier, altruism dictated the change in policy, especially as the Coy was, for the first time in its existence, preparing to offer shares to the public. Doubtless it was partly the fear that the ruination of the First Nations would cripple the collection of furs and reduce the amount of black ink used in the Coys ledgers. Substantial leakage, too, down the throats of servants bored and lonely in isolated posts may have concerned of the Coys directors. Whatever be the combination of reasons, that decision led to the invasion of Canada.
The fact that the United States government, under the provisions of the Indian Intercourse Act of June 30, 1834, had prohibited thenceforth the export of spirits into the West did not much alter the business practices of the America-based fur traders. Though the nation had designs on all of North America and had purchased Louisiana, the lands west of the Mississippi were without its legal bounds. American law had no jurisdiction there. Its low wholesale price and the strength of its retail demand made hooch the most valuable of the Traders stock of goods, and it was a foolish entrepreneur who went out to do business without a supply of that commodity which was most in demand. As the Traders penetrated ever deeper into the West, increasing numbers of Niitsi-tapi were deceived by the effects of Whitemans water. With a reliable source of liquor discovered, for the next several decades, the Niitsi-tapi of Ruperts Land took their custom south to the Missouri.
At a council on the Judith River in the eastern marches of his bailiwick, in the autumn of 1855 the Governor of Washington Territory, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, convinced the Niitsi-tapi bands and other tribes living in the American Northwest to sign the Lame Bull Treaty. By this document, Natives undertook to maintain the peace with the Whites and with each other in return for the guarantee that they would be able to live unmolested forever on lands set aside for them. For the Blackfeet, an enormous tract bounding on the Forty-ninth Parallel was reserved, the core of which is the Tribes Montana lands today.
However, in Grasshopper Gulch, in the very southern reaches of the Blackfoot Reservation, a sharp-eyed prospector spotted the gleam of gold on August 16th, 1862. The Rush was on. Hundreds of civil warriors, accustomed to killing and tired of military life, fled west to save their lives and strike it rich. Thousands of men, good and bad, slogged along the Boseman Trail, only a foolish few without firearms, and in the Texas tradition of shoot first and ask questions later, any Indian that fell into their gun sights was presumed hostile until dead. To protect their hunting grounds, the Lakota and NakotaSiouxtook up arms against the invasion and the violence rippled across the West. Targets for too many bullets, many Niitsi-tapi fell back into Ruperts Land to lodge with their brethren and attack their enemies from relative safety.
Law began to come into the region when the Territory of Montana was declared by the U.S. government on May 26, 1864. With the Civil War reaching its final, bloody crescendo, well-trained soldiers became available for frontier patrol and law enforcement. Army camps and forts sprung up, and it soon became less easy for an Indian to get a drink. This put a dint in the Traders bottom lines. Truly, a clandestine emolument or two occasionally convinced the army to look the other way while business was done, but there were enough teetotallers in the officer corps to make bribery risky. This very lucrative trade, if it was to survive, needed a new outlet.
Though the International Boundary was no more than a line on rarely seen maps before the Joint Boundary Commission completed its work in 1874, it was a recognized fact by Whites and its approximate location on the ground had been determined and was noted. To the Blackfoot, of course, a set political frontier was scarcely fathomable. It was a Medicine Line, a powerful phantom which stopped dead-in-their-tracks patrols of the American Army in hot pursuit of marauding horse stealers. To gold rushers the Boundary was nothing, for visions of the yellow metal blurred fine legal lines. But to whiskey traders, it represented the northern limit of law, for though the Dominion of Canada had assumed possession of the old HBC domains in 1870, it had done nothing to introduce orderly rule. The N-WT was wide open.
Captain John Jerome J.J. Healy knew that. He had been across The Line in the mid- to late 1860s on a gold hunt to Fort Edmonton, and when he fell into conversation with Isaac Gilbert Baker during the following summer, the subject of cross-Boundary commerce came up. I.G. was all ears. He had been the American Fur Companys last factor at Fort Benton before the company sold it in 1864, and had gone into business with his brother, George A. With the local gold rush running out of steam, the brothers were interested in new customers for their merchandise. Deciding that the gamble was worth the risk, the Bakers agreed to outfit Healy and their brother-in-law, Alfred Baker Hamilton, with a few waggons loaded with supplies. On December 6th of 1869, Healy and Hamilton succeeded in obtaining a permit from the Indian Commissioner of Montana Territory, General Alfred Sully, for awink, wink, nudge, nudgescientific expedition of exploration into Niitsi-tapi lands, with leave to cross the International Boundary and return. Sullys proviso was that the expedition not comprise more than six waggons attended by no more than 30 men, and that the amount of spiritous liquors carried not exceed that required for medicinal purposes. Apparently anticipating an epidemic, the pair set forth up the Old North Road before Christmas with waggons loaded with thousands of dollars worth of spirits and a few cases of lever-action Henry repeating rifles. On a wintering ground long favoured by the Kainai at the confluence of the St. Marys and the Bellythe latter now properly identified as the Oldmanrivers, the two associates set up a crude post which they named after Hamilton. It soon became known as Fort Whoop-Up.4 They stayed the winter, and when they arrived back in Fort Benton in the spring of 1870 with their waggons piled high with fifty thousand dollars worth of buffalo robes, the new rush was on.
Though the U.S. army was tasked with interdicting all liquor trade with all Indians, it had an enormous area to patrol and was, naturally, more interested in arresting the trade on American soil than on Canadian. Whiskey waggons heading across the Medicine Line were of low priority, especially those of the traders who had the foresight and political pull to equip themselves with U.S. Department of the Interior permits to carry medicinal alcohol. By 1871, the Niitsi-tapi lands were awash in hooch. Those traders with financial depth and better sense established forts right on the Natives wintering grounds. Some 40 of these establishments, with names such as Slide-Out, Stand Off, Robbers Roost, Whisky Gap, Conrads Post,5 Fort Kipp6 studded the south-western corner of Canadas Territory. There the traders dealt with their clients through stoutly barred wickets. Those less careful of their health plodded the prairies as far north as Fort Edmonton, driving their bull-teamed freight waggons, dealing from their tail gates, relying on fast horses and the fire-power of their Henry .44 rim-fire or Winchester Yellow Boy repeating rifles to extricate them from sticky situations. For the survivors, the profits were breath-taking.
The Niitsi-tapi, however, were nearly destroyed. Whereas formerly it was mainly the pelts of beavers found mostly in foothills of Piikani territory which could command a market, now the entire Nation possessed a valuable resource in bison hides, and with an ever stronger thirst burning in their bellies, many Niitsi-tapi rushed to aid in the destruction of the staff of life which had sustained their People for generations.
The whiskey the traders pedalled was nothing like the mild elixir to which we are accustomed today. Even then, only the most desperate of drunks, in the absence of anything more potable, would resort to it. From G.L. Berrys The Whoop-Up Trail (Lethbridge Historical Society, 1995 ) comes the recipe for the concoction which the American Fur Company trader James Kipp offered at his house-warming party for Fort Peigan in 1832. Into a cauldron of boiling water throw plenty of red peppers for bite, some blackstrap chewing tobacco for flavour, a quart or so of red ink for colour, and Hostetters Bitters to ease absorption. Mellow with Perrys Painkiller, dilute with Missouri River water to serve 1,000, cool and gently admix one barrelperhaps 36 gallonsof raw alcohol. Voilà, a libation with the requisite palate stinging, throat burning, tooth staining, brain numbing attributes, and which will flame in the spoonfire-wateras proof of potency. Other adjuncts employed by inspired brew masters included Jamaican ginger, high wine (likely 132 proof Jamaican rum), molasses, burnt sugar, various oils, sulphuric salts or blue vitriol, paint, and whatever else close to hand which would add colour and kick to their Injun Juice.
Understandably, these potions drove drinkers mad. Exchanging hides for hooch, Natives got nothing they could carry away except in their bellies. Agreeing on the price for a hide or hides, the Trader filled a securely chained tin cup from the open booze barrel at his elbow and passed it through the bars of his wicket. The customer drank and either made another trade or gave way to another individual. Upon completion of the commerce, the wise leader endeavoured to move his men out of rifle shot of the fort, for many of the traders, sharing the American army general Phil Sheridans sentiments that the only good Indian he ever saw was dead, looked upon the potting of the occasional Native from the safety of the stockade as sport. On their homeward path, many tipplers died of exposure when they fell into slumber in the open. Once back in the encampments, minor arguments among friends and family frequently ended in bloodshed. When celebrations began, the sensible in the Band, mainly the women, rushed to hide weapons before the Dæmon tore away their men folks sanity. Often they were not quick enough. So many died around Whoop-Up that the skeleton strewn area became known to the Niitsi-tapi as Many Ghosts.
The despoliation of the Tribe did not go un-noticed, of course. The HBC, though from 1869 no longer the masters of Ruperts Land, still traded into the Territories and complained to Ottawa that 500 renegade whiskey peddlers were infesting the region.7 The McDougall family, Wesleyan Methodist missionaries resident in Blackfoot lands since 1862, documented the destruction in their widely circulated reports, and the Oblate priest, Constantin Scollen, decried the situation in his frequent letters. Captain William Francis Butler of the British Army, who toured the West in the winter of 1870-71, noted in The Great Lone Land (Marston, Low and Searl, London, 1872) that [t]he institutions of Law and Order ... are wholly unknown in the region of the Saskatchewan, and destitute of any means to enforce the authority of the law. Butlers findings were confirmed in 1873 by the Canadian Militia Lieutenant-Colonel Robertson-Ross who advocated a string of seven military posts manned by 500 mounted troops be stretched between the Red River and the Rockies: the introduction of a civil police force would prove a mistake, he opined. The horror of the whiskey trade, as well as the Manifest Destiny grumblings still emanating from the United States, finally convinced Ottawa to exert Canadas claim to the North-West. But how to accomplish that feat?
With the acquisition of Oregon by the U.S.A. in 1846, many Americans believed that Ruperts Land and New Caledonia8 would, and should, be next. Irish expatriates, driven from their occupied Homeland by the hard-handed tactics of Englands Royal Irish Constabulary, were particularly vocal in demanding the old dream of Manifest Destiny be realized. Seeking to strike a blow for beleaguered Eire and aid fellow Catholic Louis Riel in his struggle against cruel Britains domination, representative Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota, in his 1869 address to the United States Congress, urged the immediate annexation of Manitoba. With the HBCs will to administer its territory fast evaporating, something had to be done to preserve Ruperts Land for the Crown.
On May 22nd, 1859, the HBCs royally chartered trading licence had been allowed to lapse, and for the next decade Ruperts Land existed in a legal limbo, loosely administered by the Company for the Crown. However, with the end of their Civil War and with a large, battle hardened army standing ready, American eyes had again strayed northward. To scuttle illusions of an easy occupation, the British government authorized a change of control in Ruperts Land in 1868 and agreed to underwrite newly-formed Canadas purchase of the region. On June 22nd of the next year, Canada, by An Act for the Temporary Government of Ruperts Land, and the North-Western Territories when united with Canada, assumed interim custody of what was subsequently referred to as the North-West Territories. That November 19th, the HBC formally tendered the surrender of its ancient trading grounds, an act confirmed by a Westminster Order-in-Council on June 23rd, 1870.
In the old Red River Colony settlements around what is now Winnipeg, Manitoba, the impending change in governance precipitated a crisis. The MétisFrench speaking Catholic people of mixed Native and European bloodaround which the settlements had developed, unconsulted by any of the parties to the transfer of power, feared that the tide of English-Canadian expansion was about to drown them. Sent by Louis David Riel, on November 2nd, 1869, a group of Métis confronted the newly appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Ruperts Land and the North-West Territories, Sir William McDougall,9 at an HBC post on the Red River just above the Boundary and ordered him to withdraw to Pembina, Minnesota. That same day the Métis seized Fort Garry, the main bastion in the settlement. On November 23rd Riel and his supporters constituted a provisional government, declaring it, notes Gerald Friesen in The Canadian Prairies; A History (University of Toronto Press, 1984), on December 8th.
The provisional government foundered on factional distrust within the settlements, and the execution on March 4th, 1870, of dissenter Thomas Scott. By April, the resolve had bled out of the rebels. On May 12th, after a convincing petition presented by Riels negotiators,10 Ottawa passed the Manitoba Act creating the new and tiny province of Manitoba and the North-West Territories. Eight days later Adams Geo. Archibald was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba, and on July 30th became L-G of the Territories as well.11 Fifteen days earlier, in proclaiming the Manitoba Act into law, Canada formally agreed to compensate the Hudsons Bay Company for its lost Ruperts Land: £300,000, some 3,000 acres of property around each of the Companys posts, and one twentiethsome seven million acresof all arable land in the fertile belt.
The Canadian government which bought the N-WT was Conservative and headed by Prime Minister J.A. Macdonald. In his essay Law and Order in the Canadian West to be found in The Prairie West to 1905 (ed. L.G. Thomas, Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1975), R.C. Macleod asserts that Macdonald was of the British opinion that local authorities should control and bear the costs of policing. In the unsettled West, of course, there was no authority. Since 1869, Macdonald had mulled the situation, and, to quote Macleod, [i]t was only with the greatest reluctance that he could bring himself to establish the Mounted Police ... when all other alternatives had been exhausted. He appeased his conscience by maintaining that the new police force was modelled on the Royal Irish Constabulary and on the British experience in India where the will of an alien ruler had to be inflicted upon the subjugated peoples by force of arms. Although an Order-in-Council approving the formation of a force was passed April 6th, 1870, it wasnt until May 23rd, 1873, that the Bill creating the North-West Mounted Police was ratified by Parliament.
Massacre in the Cypress Hills
On the frontier, everyone except wolfers hated Wolfers; their methods were crude and cruel. Wolf pelts were a fashion rage in some societal strata in the mid-Nineteenth Century, and a prime pelt could earn a trapper up to $12; not chicken feed when a fine meal in New York City cost but thirty-five cents. Increasingly rare down East, wolves were plentiful on the Plains and, though life there was tough, a tough man with no sympathy in his soul for suffering beings could make a bundle of cash in short order. The favoured method of killing wolves was ugly, but it yielded a pelt with no bullet holes. Rather than shoot, or waste time setting and patrolling a trap line, wolfers found it much more expedient to slay a few bison, salt the carcases with strychnine, set up camp in the vicinity and listen to the strangled screams of the Canidæ when the poison sent them into paroxysms of convulsions as it paralyzed their respiration. In the morning, it was a simple matter to circle the bison remains and skin out the desired carcasses. Effective, cheap, profitable. Unfortunately, scattered amid the corpses of the wolves were those of every other scavenger in the region, including Indians dogs. Its not that Indians were particularly fond of their muttsany animal that was the voluntary slave of man hardly warranted respectbut dogs were really useful as hunting assistants, camp sentries, and as pack animals when horses, for one reason or another, were unavailable for travois work. Shoot or trap wolves, okay; but the mass destruction of their dogs and so much other life revolted the Natives, and any wolfers surprised in Niitsi-tapi country paid the ultimate price. In a world of tit for tat, wolfers returned the compliment whenever possible.
Late in the spring of 1873, a gang of wolfers, self-styled the Spitzee Cavalry, were making their way to Fort Benton from their post on the Highwood River near present day Okotoks. Loaded with the winters take of pelts, they were, writes John Peter Turner in Massacre in the Hills (The Mounties: As They Saw Themselves, ed. Wm. H. Kelly, The Golden Dog Press, Ottawa, 1996), a day away from their destination when they encamped for the night on the Teton River. In the early morning, they awoke to the sound of 20 of their best horses running off. A quick inspection of the ground revealed that they had been stolen. Because Equus was a Whitemans lifeline on the Plains, horse theft was treated as a capital crime, and thieves did not often long survive their capture. By grace having legged it to Fort Benton, the wolfers drank up some courage, collected some reinforcements such as George Hammond, John Evans, and the former Montana sheriff or ill-repute, Tom Hardwick, remounted themselves and rode out, vowing to find their stolen stock and punish those responsible.
For the average Plains Indian man, stealing horses from an enemy was a sport with a long and venerable history; a horse was only a great convenience and the loss of one was not necessarily a sentence of death, and it was indeed Indians, likely Ne:hiyawakCreesand Métis who had taken the wolfers animals and headed north into Canadian territory. The wolfers set out in pursuit and following what they assumed were the tracks of their stolen stock eventually rode into the draws of the south-western reach of the Cypress Hills. There they camped, and well aware that they were near the trading post of Abe Farwell, sent a man or two over to make enquiries. Abel Farwell, financed by the T.C. Power Company of Fort Benton, had re-established his post on what would soon become Battle Creek in the previous autumn and had been trading mostly whiskey for hides and furs all winter. His competitor just across the Battle, Moses Solomon, had been doing the same, and this had alarmed Edward McKay, a former buffalo hunter who had settled his family in a valley nearby. He wrote to the newly-installed lieutenant-governor of the Province of Manitoba, Alexander Morris, to express his concerns that the Natives in his area were being poisoned by alcohol. The wolfers quickly discovered that both Farwell and Solomon had grossly over-estimated the amount of fire-water they could sell that winter, and come the spring they had plenty left over Soon all the wolfers had congregated at Fort Farwell and were diving deeply into the Cup.
Encamped next to Solomons post was Hunkajukas12 band of some 250 impoverished Nakota (Assiniboine) who had recently survived an arduous winter trek from starvation in the Battleford area. Finally able to find game, the band was hunting and recovering. A day before the wolfers arrived in the area, a horse prized by George Hammond, Farwells junior partner, had wandered off and was found and returned by a couple of Hunkajukas men. In gratitude, Hammond had given the men a little keg of booze to take back to their camp and share amongst their friends. They did, and as the wolfers guzzled Farwells excess, the Assiniboia across the creek celebrated surviving the winter. The stage was set for tragedy.
Next morning, May 1st,13 1873, Hammonds horse was again missing. For reasons known only to him, Hammond assumed that the Assiniboines had taken the beast and would return it in due course in expectation of another keg. It had a long winter, and perhaps having dealt with one too many Indians, he took his rifle and prepared to go over to Hunkajukas camp and straighten things out. The wolfers, their passions spiralled out of control by over-indulgence in Farwells libations, decided that they should accompany him. They made sure that their repeating rifles were loaded and that they had plenty of ammunition. Across the Creek the gang waded and took up positions in a little ravine with a clear view of the Assiniboine camp wherein most men had passed out from drink. Hammond strode into the camp threatening mayhem until he got his horse back, unaware that at that same moment a boy was tying the straying animal up to a hitching rail at over at Farwells. Hammond got no satisfaction from the inebriated Assiniboines, and in frustration he set fire to a tipi as he was leaving. The wolfers took this as a signal to open fire and thus perpetrated what soon came to be known as the Cypress Hills Massacre.
No one knows how many Assiniboine, men, women, and children, died that morning. With an open field of fire and facing no resistance, the wolfers shot at anything that moved. Failing to rouse their unconscious men, some of the women tried to defend the camp with the ancient muskets and bows and arrows that the band possessed. Failing, they grabbed up the smaller children and herded the older ones towards the far-away woods. Seeing the enemy flee, the wolfers emerged from their cover and fell upon the camp, burning, mutilating corpses, capturing girls. Only the sobering death of one of the wolfers, Ed Grace, at the hand of a surviving boy, halted the slaughter. The wolfers retired to enjoy their victory until the next morning when both Farwell and Solomon loaded up their goods, burned their posts to prevent their occupation by competitors, and hied away to Fort Benton with half the wolfers, the other half deciding to pursue their stolen horses westward into Blackfoot country.
The official death count is 22, but the Natives say that many escaped wounded only to die in misery later. Edward McKay immediately dispatched a rider with a report to Morris. His account of the travesty was corroborated by Narcisse Lacerte, a Métis buffalo hunter, who came upon the scene five days later. Fort Benton was soon abuzz with the heroics of the wolfers. Farwell, himself, mentioned the affair to an agent on an American Indian reservation who informed forthwith his superiors in Washington. The Massacre was the last straw as far as Alexander Morris was concerned. Although the bill providing for the organization of the North-West Mounted Police had been introduced into Parliament on April 28th (May 3rd?) and had received royal assent on the 23rd of May, 1873, nothing had been done by the federal government to constitute the force. In September, having heard of the unrest the murders were stirring in the Native population, Morris sent a blistering missive to Prime Minister Macdonald demanding to know the status of the Police. Old Tomorrow was finally sobered enough to act. With the flames of national sentiment fanned by wild editorials in Ontarian newspapers bewailing the fate of Hunkajukas people at the bloody hands of a gang of American cut-throats, on September 25th the cabinet announced the passing of an order-in-council forming a Mounted Police force for the North-West Territiories. It seems that Captain Louis Frasse of the Provincial Police Force of Manitoba had been assigned to design in detail the new Force a few days earlier, for the Mounties first officers were hired on the very day that the Order was announced: among them was James Farquharson Macleod.
The 150-strong first contingent of the Police was raised largely in Ontario during the early fall of 1873 and sent from there to winter and train at Lower Fort Garry on the Red River down stream from todays Winnipeg. It was a miserable winter, but the men were well seasoned by the time they met the second contingent at Fort Dufferin on the Red at the Boundary in late June the next year. Taking a week to rest and organize, the Force, now comprising of 247 constables and sub-constables led by 27 officers and non-commissioned officers and commanded by an English colonel of the Royal Artillery, George Arthur French. Seven Métis scouts were engaged as guides. Departing Fort Dufferin on July 8th, 1874, they were an impressive contingent of men; six red-coated companies each mounted on matching horses, dangling swords flashing in the sun, pennants snapping, reliable old single-shot .577 Snider-Enfield Mark III carbines in their saddle scabbards, junky Beaumont-Adams Mark I .450 five-shot revolvers in their holsters. Equipped with a portable blacksmith shop, 2 nine-pound field guns, two mortars, mowing machines, 73 waggons, and 114 high wheeled Red River carts driven by Métis teamsters, the force appeared prepared for any exigency as it set out on its 1300-kilometre safari into the unknown. It was, declared former Sub/Constable E.H. Maunsell in his memoir, Maunsells Story in The Mounties: As They Saw Themselves, …the longest cavalry march on record.
As so fascinatingly detailed by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths in The Great Adventure (Viking Press, Toronto, 1996), only two months in the West all but destroyed the Mounted Police. Their beautiful horses, chosen with such care from the best Ontario stock, died like flies when exposed to the rough forage and extreme weather of the Prairies. The whole outfit was afoot and manhandling many of the waggons when it stumbled up to that ancient Prairie landmark, Roche Percée. Thence French sent A Troop under the command of Jarvis and sergeant-major Sam Steele to Fort Edmonton. The guides, though competent in the region around their homes on the Red River, were as lost as their employers on the vast western Steppes. Stampedes, boredom, thirst, filth, parasite infestations, vehicle breakdown, disintegration of clothing and equipment, and a debilitatingly inadequate diet for both animals and men14 left the Force in physical and psychological tatters by the time it struggled past Old Wives Lake and across the northern slopes of the Cypress Hills in what is now south-western Saskatchewan. Only the providential discovery of a buffalo herd and the Saskatchewan River valley with its fresh water and ravines thick with chokecherry and Saskatoon berry bushes saved the expedition from annihilation. After a few days recuperation on what probably is the present site of Medicine Hat, the column headed south, the men grumbling about the lack of action and muttering doubts about even the existence of whiskey forts and abused Indians. Who could live in such a country? And then, on the first day of autumn, a blizzard swept out of the north-west. Only with luck the Force made it to the wooded slopes of the Sweet Grass Hills a few miles below the as yet-unmarked International Boundary.
In what has been kindly described as a career of inept leadership, Geo. French made two good decisions on September 22nd, 1874. His Command in ruins, he broke it up, sending D and E Divisions back to winter in the Red River valley, and setting out with Major J.F. Macleod, Sub-Inspector Éphrem-A Brisebois and a couple of scouts on a two-day mission to Fort Benton in Montana Territory to get desperately needed supplies and find a knowledgeable scout who could lead the Police to their immediate objective, the hell-pit of Fort Whoop-up.
The arrival of the N-WMP in the Territories was no surprise to Fort Bentonians; the Forces progress across the Plains had been a topic of keen interest to the whiskey traders. Whether or not Frenchs visit to Benton had been anticipated or not is unclear, but soon after he and his escort had ridden into town, they were taken in hand by Charles Edward Conrad and his brother, Wm. G., who had that year taken over the I.G. Baker and Bro. Company, renaming it the I.G. Baker and Company. No fools, the Conrads had foreseen that the Police would close off one of their avenues of income, but they were too good a pair of businessmen not to open another when opportunity came calling. Personally ensuring that every item on Frenchs shopping list got ticked off, the merchants assured the Colonel and Major Macleod that the I.G. Baker and Company was ever ready to speedily satisfy all subsequent Police wants, and further, would be only too happy to deliver goods anywhere in the southern North-West Territories: the companys waggoneers certainly knew the route well. As an assurance of their concerned goodwill toward the Mounties, the Conrads instructed one of their main men, Donald Watson Davis,15 to accompany the Police and expedite the supply of their wants.
Legend has it that it was in the Baker store that French found his scout. Jerry Potts was half-Kainaa, half-Scot, was married to two Piikani sisters and lived with them among their People where he was known as Kiaayo ku’-siBear Child. According to B.D. Fardy (op cit), Potts reputation as a fighter and as a man who knew every blade of grass in the southern Niitsi-tapi lands was unsurpassed. Potts, of course, was well aware of the plight of the Police, and perhaps pitied a little these blundering people of his fathers blood, starving and thirsting and mauled by the elements in a land that he found so predictable and well provisioned. Though an imbiber of some renown himself, Potts nonetheless saw the tragedies that booze was inflicting on his Tribe. Not really needing employment, but not busy with anything at that moment, he agreed to lead the Police to Fort Whoop-Up.
And that he did.
Having seen enough of the West and convinced that he could best lead his Force from a comfortable bureau in Ottawa, Colonel French, much to the relief of his men, turned over field command of B, C and F Troops to Major Macleod and departed eastward from the Sweet Grass Hills with D and E Troops, bound for Swan River and, leaving the latter troop there, to Fort Garry with D.
Guided to green pastures and good waters by Potts, Macleods men recovered enough of their vigour to be in fighting form and eager by the time they hove into view of Whoop-Up in the early afternoon of October 9th. By and large, they were disappointed. Aiming their field guns threateningly at the gates, the Police formed up into battle lines and challenged the fort. Nothing. No noise, no movement; the pair of fearful little nine-pound cannon with which the whiskey peddlers liked to impress the Indians remained mute. As the minutes passed, expectations deflated and finally Potts and Macleod, tiring of the silent stand-off, rode down and hammered on the gates. After a minute or two of the sounds of a barricade being dismantled, the gate creaked slowly open and D.E. (Dave) Akers welcomed the N-WMP into his ranch.
Supposèdly after a covert wink from Don Davis, Akers averred in his Dutch-accented English that no whiskey traders were in his stockade and had never been. It was a working ranch, fortified against attacks by savages. And surely, the Police should feel free to take a look-see while Daves two lady companions rustled up grub for 150. Though evidence of the whiskey trade aboundedempty casks, soil fragrantly damp in places, skeletal human remains littering the environsAkers persisted with his story that he was an innocent rancher with no cattle at present but with full intentions of getting some soon. And no, regretfully, he couldnt see his way clear just now to accept Macleods offer of $10,000 for his stoutly palisaded ranchstead: one couldnt dare to live undefended on the frontier, despite the reassuring presence of the Law. With that thought in mind, perhaps, he readily agreed to lease the Mounties a corner of his fort as an outpost.
Asked to find them a suitable location for a permanent post, Potts led Major Macleod and the N-WMP toward a place he knew north and west of Whoop-Up. On the way the Mounties dropped in on another notorious whiskey post, Fort Kipp, but found it deserted. A few miles further on up the Oldman, Potts brought the Mounties to what is now Macleod Island,16 near the mouth of Willow Creek where one of the many strands of the Old North Road forded the River and brought trade to Louis Watson and his family who called the 600-acre Island home. Defensible, and with water aplenty in what he now realized was an arid land, the site met with Macleods approval. Encamping his troop there on October 13th, the Major obtained the permission of Piikani chief Bulls Head to chop down trees17 and immediately contracted the much-experienced D.W. Davis of the Baker company to superintend the construction of a stockaded post. Work started, reports Harold Freyer in Old Fort Macleod (Canadian West Magazine, Vol. 8, No. 3, Winter 1992), the next day. Davis in turn hired William Shanks Gladstone, the former HBC York-boat builder and constructor of Fort Whoop-up, as chief carpenter on the job. It was arduous work, remembers Maunsell, frosty weather having set in. The Mounties dubbed the structure Fort Macleod. Pleased, the Major permitted the name to stick.
The fort that Gladstone threw up for the Mounties was necessarily crudecome the middle of October in what is now southern Alberta, Winter can blow in at any time. Ugly, the nearly square stockade of Cottonwood logs enclosed less than half an acre18 into which was crammed living quarters, stables, a hospital, a saddle room, the smithy and an orderly room cum jail. Most buildings were backed against the palisade to save construction time and materials, and leave space for a parade ground. Roofed with sod and floored with dirt, the accommodations were uncomfortably functional at best. That first winter was harsh and, despite the deluxe turkey and trimmins Christmas dinner generously supplied by the Baker company, the lack of pay and the crude conditions convinced many a man to desert.
Undeterred, however, the Force proceeded to stamp the Canadian maple-leaf on the N-WT. The Act of 1873 Respecting the Administration of Justice and the Establishment of a Police Force in the North-West Territories had not only provided for stipendiary magistrates to adjudicate cases according to Canadian Criminal Lawwhich was, by the Act, extended into the N-WTit also made policemen coroners, sheriffs and ex officio justices of the peace with wide powers to capture malefactors and try them forthwith. The application of the Law was swift; only cases of capital crime had to be remitted to a Magistrate,19 all other infractions were addressed summarily. At the top of Macleods list were the whisky traders, and Jerry Potts knew where most of them were. Harry Kamoose Taylor was the first one the Mounties visited, and he owns the distinction of being the first arrested.20 This was fun for the Policemen, what they had signed up for. Of the more than 40 whiskey forts which had existed at one time or another in the south-western corner of the Territories, by February 17th of 1875, when the Mounties put the blustering J.D. Weatherwax out of business, not one remained.21 There were no battles, no fights-to-the-finish, hardly even any skirmishes as the whiskey runners concluded that their era was over and either left the Territories, followed the example of the I.G. Baker & Company and went into more or less legitimate business,22 or took to smuggling small quantities across the line and selling from a cache, a game of hide-and-seek that most Mounties thoroughly enjoyed.
Consolidating its authority with the North-West Territories Act of 1875, Ottawa, having the N-WMPs now in residence to impose its will and with the pacification of the First Nations in its mind, declared the West dry and directed the Police to begin setting up a network of posts from which to operate. In the late spring of that year, now Lieutenant-Colonel Macleod sent a patrol under the command of Inspector Éphrem-A. Brisebois north to establish a post on the Bow River,23 and one under Major James Morrow Walsh to build a fort in the Cypress Hills24 and investigate the infamous massacre which had instigated the formation of the Force. The Police, which had been originally envisioned as a temporary organization with which to legitimate Canadas claim to the N-WT, became a permanent instrument of government policy and began weaving red serge into the fabric of Canadas history.
The chapter of The Great Canadian Creation Myth dealing with the West has it that the Indians welcomed the Mounties as their saviours. Truth is that the Niitsi-tapi watched the construction of Fort Macleod with a mixture of relief and consternation. Some of the older Natives who remembered the times before booze broke the independence of their Nation, were relieved to see the end of the whiskey trade, no matter what agent effected it. Jerry Potts, though reported to be a prodigious drinker, reputedly shared this opinion. Many Niitsi-tapi, however, resented the intrusion of the N-WMP into their affairs. The Tribe was little consulted on the matter of a fort being raised in their territory, nor could they remove it. For the wild drinkers, the party was over. Further, the Force frowned upon the time-honoured sport of horse-stealing. It was a sobering moment in the Tribes history as it realized that its power of self-determination was inexorably slipping away.
Though the Conservative government which had raised the N-WMP had been defeated in the federal election of November 5th, 1873, its Liberal replacement led by Alexander Mackenzie adopted its predecessors vision of clearing the way for European settlement of the Prairies. It is well within the realm of probability that the Conservatives would have employed the Militia to implement its policy, just as the United States was then using its army. The Liberals chose the gentler course, that of convincing the Indians that it was in their best interest to surrender their lands in return for protection from lawlessness and an opportunity to partake in the change that was about to overtake the West. In implementing this policy of persuasion, the N-WMP were essential, and facilitating the Forces goals was Jerry Potts who introduced Colonel Macleod to both Chief Red Crow of the Kainaa and the famous Chief Crowfoot of the Siksikah.
For the N-WMP insignia of the bisons head on his cap, the Niitsi-tapi named Colonel Macleod Stamix-oto-kan, Bulls Head, and renamed the ford on the Oldman River where the Police established Fort Macleod in his honour. Red Crow, especially, agree the several authors of The True Spirit and Original Intent of Treaty 7 (Treaty 7 Elders and Tribal Council with Walter Hildebrandt, Dorothy First Rider, & Sarah Carter, McGill-Queens University Press, Montréal & Kingston, 1996), became an outspoken supporter of Macleod. By patient negotiation, goes the Myth, consensus building, sensitivity to the Natives cultural sensibilities and the inflexible application of the Law to all races, Macleod won the trust of the Niitsi-tapi. Thus, in 1877, when Mackenzies government sent its Lieutenant-Governor and Indian Superintendent, David Laird, west to corral the Niitsi-tapi Bands onto reserves, it fell to Macleod to soothe the Indians anxieties and convince them accept the terms of Treaty 7 and to acknowledge their marks upon its Paper on September 22nd, 1877.
On his way to Blackfoot Crossing where the Treaty negotiations were to be held, Laird stopped over at Fort Macleod in August of 1877. He noted, report the authors of The True Spirit and Intent of Treaty 7, that the settlement possessed some excellent stores, supplied with almost every article, and that coal from the mines in the Belly Rivers banks25 was being used in heating stoves and in forges. By then some husky entrepreneurs had set up a log-sawing operation in the neighbourhood and were supplying rough-cut lumber for finishing the log-built structures. In contrast to Lairds observations, around 1880 another visitor described Fort Macleod as a wide muddy lane with a row of dirty, half-finished wooden shanties flanking each side. Among those shanties was a livery stable run by George LaVasseur and his brother-in-law, Harry Stedman, Strong Arm Kenneficks blacksmith shop, two or three eating places, a church building. Most importantly, however, were the I.G. Baker store and its main competitor, the T.C. Power26 & Bros. outfit.
Even as he was directing the Mounties efforts in the raising of their first fort, D.W. Davis was building a store for his bosses, the brothers Conrad, owners of the I.G. Baker & Co. of Fort Benton. From this store, for the next several years, would come everything that the Police could desire, from canned peaches to horse fodder to cash money for the mens pay. Not to be cut out of the lucrative Police business,27 the T.C. Power Company, also from Fort Benton, quickly arrived on the scene to offer competitive goods and services. To supply Fort Macleod and Fort Calgarysome 170 kilometres farther northwith dry-goods, Bakers teamsters cursed eight, ten, sixteen spanyokeof oxen hitched to trains of three freight waggonslead, swing, and trailladen with seven tons of goods up the Old North Road from Fort Benton. Returning, the waggons were, until the last of the beasts were shot and skinned, piled high with buffalo hides and robes.28 In good weather, the 230-mile trip from Fort to Fort took 17 days. The two companies maintained a healthy competition until 1881 when they finally realized that their rivalry was limiting their profits. They divided the business; Powers shut down its Fort Macleod operation and Bakers did likewise at Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills. Left to its own, the Baker concern was doing a half million dollars worth of business annually with the N-WMP by the mid-80s. The Department of Indian Affairs contributed substantially to Bakers profits, as well. Until the HBC came to Town in 1886, I.G. Bakers enjoyed a virtual stranglehold on Fort Macleods commerce.
The security that the N-WMP brought to that area of the North-West that they controlled encouraged commercial enterprise. In 1875 Joe McFarland and Henry Olson trailed in two of the three small herds of dairy cows brought to the Fort Macleod neighbourhood that year. According to Barry Potyondi in Where the Rivers Meet: …, they set up an extortionate business supplying the post with milk. McFarland, understanding that the Police were willing to pay a $1.70 for a bushel of oats, immediately broke a field from the sod in the Oldmans valley and sowed a crop, thereby becoming southern Albertas first commercial farmer. Out on Mountain Mill Creek in the Pincher Creek area, the Department of the Interiors Indian Branch set up a sawmill to employ Piikani and encourage them to remain on their reserve. By 1881, with bison disappeared from the Canadian West, the Niitsi-tapi peoples found it necessary to stay on their reserves in order to get supplies. This meant that the range was open to ranchers. Among the first to take advantage of this situation was the Baker company which formed the Benton and St. Louis Cattle Company in 1882 to stock and operate what it called the Circle Ranch on a 150,000-acre lease between the Oldman and the Little Bow Rivers, primarily to supply the Mounties and the DIA with meat. In the immediate neighbourhood of Fort Macleod, the honour of being the first to run cattle goes to either long-time regional resident, Fred Kanouse, or ex-Bay man, George Emerson. The jury is still out.
The New Fort
By the 17th of September, 1881, the little settlement which had sprung up around the Fort was a bustling community, pleased to welcome to their community that day the His Excellency the Right Honourable Sir John George Edward Henry Douglas Sutherland Campbell, Marquis of Lorne, K.T., G.C.M.G., P.C., Canadas Governor-General, who was processing with his entourage29 through the N-WT on a tour of inspection. Niitsi-tapi gathered in their hundreds to dance, game, and discourse with the surrogate and son-in-law of the great Grandmother under whose protection they had placed themselves four years earlier, imploring him to expedite the delivery of the goods and services which the natives needed in order to adapt to Life without the buffalo. On September 20th, having inspected the Fort and received the salute of every policeman, parlayd with Chief Crow Foot and his council, the G-G et al set off down the North Road to Fort Benton and the riverboat that was to ease their egress from the West.
Until 1882, for those travellers not equipped with their own transportation, about the only way to get to Fort Macleod had been the freight waggons of the T.C. Power and the I.G. Baker companies. That year Bakers instituted a regular bi-monthly four-horse stage service between forts Benton and Macleod. Now, in relative comfort, folks heading for Fort Macleod could simply sight-see their way up the Missouri by riverboat and then enjoy an eight-day jounce in a coach to their destination. Had the Marquis and his party but visited Fort Macleod a year later they would not have had to camp or impose upon the hospitality of the Police, for the ex-wolfer and whiskey runner, Harry Kamoose Taylor, would have had his Macleod Hotel, the communitys first commercial hostelry, completed.30 On July 1st of 1882, ex-Mounties Charles Edward Dudley Wood and E.T. Saunders published the first issue of the Macleod Gazette.
The year of 1883 was, so to speak, a watershed year for Fort Macleod. That spring the Oldman River arose from its bed and washed over Macleod Island. Observes Fred Stenson in his Lightning (Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto, 2003), all the lowest-lying shacks had their bottom logs in the soup. Outhouse holes were filled and spilling. A similar event had occurred in 1878 and without extensive dyking and drainage works, there was nothing to stop it from happening again. So, lock, stock and barrel, the Police and the denizens of the settlement packed up their movables and transplanted themselves a couple of kilometres upstream to the higher and drier site upon which the modern town sits. Into the middle of this comparative chaos William Roper Hull and his brother delivered to the Mounties the huge herd of horses that they had driven across southern BC and through the Crows Nest Pass.
The inconvenience of the Flood and the subsequent move was nothing compared to the blow to its aspirations that Fort Macleod had to absorb that summer. On August 14th the CPR spiked down its Mainline trackage past the front gate of Fort Calgary, the daughter post which Sub-Inspector É.-A. Brisebois had established in the Bow Rivers valley in September of 1875. Because the CPR had chosen to run its Mainline through the Kicking Horse and Rogers Passes rather than risk a more southerly alignment through the Crows Nest, Fort Macleod lost any chance it formerly had of becoming the major metropolis of the District of Alberta. Calgary would become the regions main emporium and market.
Though it had lost the Railway, Fort Macleod acquired a related industry in 1883: ship-building. For some years small-time operators had been digging coal out of the river banks downstream from The Fort some 60 miles. In 1882 Eastern Canadian and British money became interested in the deposits, and decided upon river transport to move coal from its mines to the CPR at Medicine Hat. To that end the company, the North-Western Coal and Navigation Company (N-WC&N), sent a crew with a portable saw mill into a 50 square-mile timber limit it acquired in the Porcupine Hills to cut timber over the winter of 82-83 and mill lumber for the construction of boats and barges. Raw logs were likely floated in the spring down the Old Man to a shipyards and coaling station that the company established at Fort Macleod, while the sawn lumber was laboriously waggoned thence by bull teams. Arrived at The Fort, part of the lumber was used to build that spring the first four of 25 barges that the company would construct over the next few months, part was forwarded to Coal Banks where the river boat Baroness was being built and where mine props were constantly needed, and part was sold to the Mounties to build the barracks of their new Fort Macleod post, and to the citizens of The Fort who were rebuilding their settlement next to the Post. When the waters of Old Man River downstream from Lethbridge proved insufficient that year and the next to float the fleet loaded with economical quantities of coal to Medicine Hat, barge building in The Fort ceased. Before the yards were closed, however, it is likely that the crews build a couple of cross-river ferries which the N-WC&N operated at Fort Macleod and Fort Kipp for a number of years.
The next couple of years seemed to be ones of stagnation. In 1884 North-Western Coal & Navigation dismantled the saw-mill that it had built at The Fort in 1883, and moved it 60 kilometres down the Oldman to its mines at Coal Banks.31 Though its charter permitted it to extend its trackage through to Fort Macleod, when the N-WC&N completed its narrow gauge Turkey Track railroad between Medicine Hat and Coal Banks in August of 1885, it saw no profit in extending the line further, limiting its contact with the community to an extension of the Coal Banks telegraph line that it strung out from Medicine Hat that spring. Fort Macleods business community was disappointed. Anguished, C.E.D. Wood of the Gazette encouraged citizens to raise a pool of money to help pay for an extension of the rails to Fort Macleod. The idea never really caught on as many of its citizenry forsook The Fort for the opportunities at Lethbridge. Though Geo. Noel Levasseur and Thos. Hatchard Stedman, the owners of Macleod Stables, extended their Concord coach service to connect The Fort with the new railhead thrice weekly, and the Royal Mail Line coaches frequently ran out to Pincher Creek and up to Fort Calgary, Fort Macleod felt that it was left to dangle in the wind at the end of the telegraph line. Most people travelled by stage from Lethbridge, most goods came from there by waggon. From an outpost of civilization, Fort Macleod quickly sank into a backwater.
Fort Macleods relative isolation did not deter regional ranchers from convening in the hamlet to form an association on April 13th of 1886. Their main concerns, reports David H. Breen in his 1969 masters thesis for the University of Calgary, The Cattle Compact: The Ranch Community in Southern Alberta, 1881-1896, were starving Indians rustling32 stock and farming settlers encroaching on cattle leases. On May 11th the ranchers met again in Fort Macleod and formed the Canadian North-West Territories Stock Association,33 electing John Herron of Pincher Creek as president, and C.E.D. Wood as secretary, ex-Mounties both. That summer the HBC built their store where the uptown CIBC Bank now stands. Specializing in loans to local ranchers, the Cowdry brothers opened the communitys first bank,34 a move that they perhaps regretted come October of 1887 when C.E.D. Wood, the publisher of the Gazette and former secretary of the Canadian Northwest Stock Association,35 alienated the ranching community by coming out in favour of settling the Prairies with sod-busters. So deeply betrayed did the ranchers feel that they turned their collective backs on Fort Macleod in favour of Calgary where the Herald championed the views of the cattle industry.36 Why the good people of Fort Macleod didnt run Wood out of town on a rail must have been due to his dedication to the community, as evinced by his signature among the many others of influential citizens37 on Ordinance 24 of 1887, An Ordinance to incorporate a General Hospital at Macleod, assented to by Lieutenant-Governor Dewdney of December 19th, 1887. By the time that the Conrads had sold the Canadian retail operations of the I.G. Baker Company to the HBC in December of 1890, Fort Macleods importance was fast fading. It had had enjoyed a little boom in 1890 when the Galts announced that they intended to extend their North Western Coal and Navigation railroad into B.C., but the Town had never developed much of an industrial base, and when McLaren Lumbers big mill nearby burned in August of 1894 after only six years of operation, the company saw no need to replace it.
Hubris by-passed: the CPR snubs Macleod
Fort Macleod remained shunned by progress, thought its promoters, and its growth stunted. Merchants relied upon the trade of the Piikani and, more, on the Kainai, whose Reserve was within easy walking distance. So highly was Native trade esteemed, writes Hugh Dempsey in Tom Three PersonsLegend of an Indian Cowboy (Purich Publishing, Saskatoon, 1997), that several merchants wed Niitsi-tapi women and learned the language. On November 23rd, 1888, some of the more aggressive go-getters had formed a Board of Trade to organize services, publicize the Towns attributes and attract a railroad. The Gazette ran editorials praising the Calgary, Alberta and Montana Railway initiatives of Calgary lawyer and politician James Alexander Lougheed, and the Galts North-Western Railway Company of Canada proposal, both of which were to run through The Fort. The Board enjoyed some success, but, when the CPR laid the last rail of the Southern Branch38 of its Calgary and Edmonton Railway on September 8th, 1892, it did so at a place that it called West MacleodMekastoeon the Oldman Rivers northern bank some three miles upstream from Fort Macleod, 108 route-miles from Calgary. The CPR expected that Fort Macleod would of course simply, again, pack itself up and, tail between its legs, come fawning to buy Company-owned lots on a townsite that had been registered on November 30th, 1892, on section 12 of Township 10, Range 27W4M. Much to the Railroads chagrin, the citizenry of what they proudly proclaimed as the oldest permanent settlement in the Territorial south-west refused to move, emphasising their decision by dropping the rude Fort from their communitys name and incorporating it where it stood as a town municipality39 by the authority granted to the community by Territorial Ordinance No. 29 of 1892, assented to on December 31st, 1892. The first Administrator was banker John Cowdry.
CP, naturally, went ahead and established its town, and folks from Macleod who wanted to ride the C&E had to take Jeff Daviss stage to West Macleod. Extensive gravel pits were opened northwest of the hamlet, and a wye in the middle of the settlement turned engines for the trip back to Calgary. The West Macleod Public School District was established and a school erected which entertained 12 pupils when it opened. In 1895, according to C.W. Bohi and L.S. Kozma in their Canadian Pacifics Western Depots: The Country Stations of Western Canada (South Platte Press, David City, NE, 1993), CP erected a Type 2 station. Though it counted four streets and nine avenues, Mekastoe was, however, never much of a town, and in 1906, according to census statistics found by Joy Hurlburt, only five people still lived there. Of course, by then the Crows Nest Line had been completed and the Oldman bridged to connect the C&E to it. In 2005 the townsite is owned by the Hurlburt family who also own the gravel quarries nearby. The site is still pocked here and there with pits that may have been house cellars. There must have been a coal dock and a locomotive watering facility of some kind, either a tank or a stand, but nothing remains but the pits, a few graded roadways settling under pasture grass, and an ancient waggon trail that cuts across the site heading from the bridge to the quarry.
The CPR was not a Company to overlook resistance to its expectations. And it had a long memory. When in June of 1897 it announced the imminent construction of the Crows Nest Line, CP declared that Macleod would serve as its construction headquarters. Macleod rejoiced, the Gazette trumpeting that the CNL would be … one of the most important public works in the history of the Dominion. The Town was about to boom, about to reclaim its rightful place as the premier settlement in the District of Alberta. Thousands of men and horses would be needed, and tons of supplies to feed them, and all would flow through Macleod.
Not exactly Macleod, however, for the CPR had a little surprise for the stubborn townies. Though 60-61 Victoria Chapter 5, An Act to authorize a subsidy for a Railway through the Crows Nest Pass stipulated that the CPR must establish a station in the Town of Macleod …unless the Governor in Council is satisfied by the Company that there is good cause for constructing the railway outside the limits of the said town, in which case the said line of railway shall be located and a station established at a distance not greater than 500 yards from the limits of the said town; …, when surveyors determined that the best route westward from Lethbridge would be across the great Kanai reserve to approach MacLeod from the south-east, the Company, apparently still fuming over the West Macleod incident, made no effort to run its rails closer than one-and-a-half miles of the Town limits. Adding injury to insult, it established its construction yards and depôt a couple of miles away, on the northern edge of the present aerodrome property, still the location of a small collection of sidings. Though Lethbridge rightfully claims the honour of hosting the projects sod-turning ceremony on July 14th, 1897, it was from the yards outside Macleod that very day that real construction began with the dispatching of grading crews eastward and west. The Yards, soon hosting dormitories, a cookhouse, shops was dubbed Haneyville after the CNLs superintendent of construction, Michael J. Haney.40 There, under the watchful eye of chief construction engineer Hugh D. Lumsden, CP marshalled materiel and crews toiled a 10-hour day41 prefabricating the many trusses and trestles that it would needed to level the grade of the new Road. To equip the camp, CP finally threw a quick bridge across the Oldman42 at West Macleod and contracted McCrimmon and Company to extend the C&E to the CNL mainline, receiving belated permission to do so on June 13, 1898, by 61 Victoria chapter 57.
Though only a couple of miles south-west of Macleod, Haneyville was far enough away so that it required considerable effort for a tired man to trudge into town seeking diversion after a long, hard days railroading. Although Macleod did, of course, derive economic benefit from the crews, CP ensured that it was kept to a minimum.
During the fall of 1897, Haneys crews spiked their 56-pound rails across the Kainaa Reserve, through Haneyville and on up as far as the big bridge over what was then called the South Fork of the Oldmans Rivernow the Pincher Creek. The Town of Macleod could only watch from afar as crews at Haneyville custom-built a timber-framed Special F station befitting the eastern divisional headquarters of the Crows Nest Line. A railyard was laid out with an enginehouse, a dormitory and water and coal facilities to accommodate both the CNL and C&E, the latter for which, after buying up its paper debt and obtaining the permission of Parliament, CP would obtain a 999-year lease on January 8th, 1904.
For nearly ten years after the completion of the CNL on October 5th, 1898, the CPR imperiously maintained the fiction that Haneyvilles station was Macleod. Stuck out on the bald Prairie, with only its fellow Railway fixtures for comfort, the Station stood unshielded against in the winter winds and summers sun, an inconvenient and uncomfortable ride by sleigh or buggy from Town. When the Macleod Telephone Company incorporated itself in 1899 and strung a line out to Haneyville, it psychologically brought the Station and the Town closer together but didnt solve the problem of distance. Over the years the Macleod Gazette often smouldered that many a prospective settler, concluding from the Stations bleak location that Macleod was an inhospitable place, didnt bother to detrain to investigate, but rather continued onward to more attractive locales.
Macleod, though, as far as CP was concerned, had not yet suffered enough for its insolent rejection of West Macleod, and spitefully back-handed the Town across its corporate face in May of 1905 when it accepted an offer of land and tax concessions from coal-rich Lethbridge to remove thither the CNLs divisional headquarters. It was more than a loss of prestige for Macleod, whose movers and shakers had that year had established the South Alberta Club. Gone from the Towns economy were scores of well paid, highly influential jobs and tens of thousands of dollars in annual income. Two years later, committed to building the Lethbridge Viaduct and re-aligning the CNL as far as Macleod, CP, in a magnanimous mood, hammered a spur back down along side the new right-of-way from the Haneyville yards and removed the Special F station thither, placing it nine blocks south of Main Street. In 1910, with plans finalized to complete the Kettle Valley line and anticipating a resultant increase of traffic on the CNL, CP expanded its Yards and built a ten-stall wedge of roundhouse.
The Twentieth Century
After an outbreak of typhoid in 1898 traced to the unsanitary distribution of drinking water from the Old Man, the Town of Macleod cleaned up its act, instituting garbage collection that year. So it was altogether a cleaner Town that bade farewell to many of its young men the next year.
The youth of Macleod rallied to the Union Flag in droves when, in December of 1899, according D. E. Graves in his Century of Service: The History of the South Alberta Light Horse (The South Alberta Light Horse Regiment Foundation, Edmonton, 2005), the 2nd Battalion of the Canadian Mounted Rifles began recruiting in the District of Alberta. A recruitment office set up in Macleod under the auspices of the N-WMP a had to turn away volunteers eager to subdue the Boers in South Africa, and the Town was well represented when a month later the 190-man strong Battalion entrained for Ottawa where the members were kitted out and dispatched forthwith for their adventures. In February Lord Strathconas Horse began recruiting and was similarly fully subscribed, many volunteers drawn by the reputation of the regiments commander, Lieutenant-colonel S.B. Steele, formerly of the N-WMP. In 1901 the 2nd Regiment of the CMA was raised in Alberta, and in 1902 the 5th, as well.
By June 24th, 1904, when the new British king, Edward VII, granted the N-WMP the privilege of prefixing Royal to their name, the Police had reduced their presence in Macleod to the point that the Town was obliged to organize its own police department. It was quite a disappointment for the Town that had been founded by the Mounties and had been the entire Forces headquarters for two years until 1878.43
The peak years for immigration into the Macleod area were 1903 and 1904.44 With the Mormons demonstrating what wonders irrigation could work on the arid Prairies of southern Alberta, the region filled up fast and Macleod prospered, unrecognizable as the rude little fort that the N-WMP had established on the wide Canadian Prairies thirty years before. Though it had surrendered much of its influence to both Calgary and Lethbridge, it was still a regional centre which served the growing population of farming families and, despite previous misunderstandings with the ranchers associations, did a good trade in the cattle business. With the creation of Alberta as a province on September 1st, 1905, Macleod dared hope that it would receive some benefit; a government office perhaps having something to do with aboriginal affairs: the Town is within walking distance of two of the biggest Indian Reserves in Canada. It got nothing: regional affairs were to be administered from Lethbridge whence, that May of 1905, the CPR removed its Crows Pass Lines divisional headquarters. The Town was thankful to keep the courts in the house that the Territory had built in 1902.
The loss of the divisional headquarters stung Macleod, but the hum along the wires of the Bell Telephone Companys newly-strung Calgary-direct line in December of that year relayed news of an event that struck terror into the hearts of residents of all prairie towns. On the 6th a small fire originating in Reachs store blew into a conflagration that all but wiped out downtown Macleod. With the exception of the sandstone Queens Hotel (1903) and the brick-built Cowdry Brothers Bank building (1900), the structures which lined Main Street were of wood with boomtown false fronts mostly dating from the 1880s. Desiccated by 15 years of thirsty west winds, they were bombs awaiting ignition. So traumatic was the event that in 1907 the town council passed a by-law requiring that all future downtown construction be of brick or stone. An outcrop of construction-grade sandstone in the Oldmans valley some 20 miles downstream was developed into a quarry,45 and with stone there-from and bricks from William F. Gays works, downtown Main was transformed into a enduring streetscape. One of the first erections was that of the Hudsons Bay Company where the CIBC now stands: Christensen and Knaufe contracted to lay the stonework.
It was not fire, however, that laid Macleod low. It was the great Railway Fever of 1911.
All over Western Canada, the late 19-aughts was an era of railroad expansion. William Mackenzie and Donald Mann had run their Canadian Northern into Edmonton and were laying branch lines across the Prairies as far and as fast as they could. Following hard upon the CNoRs heels, the Grand Trunk Pacific was building toward the Coast. In April of 1907, J.J. Hill had publicly mused that his Great Northern might extend itself beyond its Morrissey, Fernie and Michel Railway trackage in the Crowsnest, and vie with the CPR for business in southern Alberta. Pleased with the prospect of patronizing a rival to the arrogant CPR, Macleod eagerly awaited developments. Three years later, CP declared that it was going to build what became known as the Kettle Valley Railway from Midwaythe end of its Columbia and Western Railwayonward to the Coast. It would be styled The Southern Mainline, part of truly trans-continental route. Macleods temperature rose in anticipation. Though no longer the headquarters of the Crows Nest Lines eastern division, the completion of the KVR would still bring more traffic along both the C&E and the CNL, and with its station now conveniently located, Macleod would prosper. As CP expanded Macleods roundhouse by ten stalls, excitement crackled like lightning through the Town; finally, Macleod was going to fulfill its past promise.
Hucksters and promoters descended upon the Town with big plans wadded into their carpet-bags. On its maps, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company projected trackage down from its Mainline at Wainright, into Macleod and thence through the Crowsnest to the Coast in head-to-head competition with the CPR. Representatives of the Canadian Northern assured townsfolk that one fine morning soon they would awaken to the sound of eight-pound hammers spiking down CNoR rails as crews ran a line from Calgary to the Boundary. Louis Hill, who succeeded his father as president of the Great Northern in April of 1907, continued his fathers musings about running trackage out onto the Prairies. Excited to distraction, a few local businessmen began effusing on their Alberta Electric line to Calgary and maybe south to Benton. Altogether, as shown on the 1911 Macleod Board of Trades map which Adolf Hungry Wolf thoughtfully includes in his informative Rails in the Canadian Rockies (Good Medicine Books, Invermere, B.C., 1979), are no less than ten rail lines radiating from the Town of Macleod. Leading the boosters was the industrial commissioner of the Board of Trade, John Richardson.
Riding this wave of optimism, the Town council resolved to tidy up and legal loose ends that might compromise the communitys rosy future, and on March 29th of 1912 the Town of Macleod was reincorporated under the statutes of the Province of Alberta. With its renewed status, the Town began borrowing money to build infrastructure to ready itself for the booming times ahead.
Canadian Western Natural Gas Light, Heat and Power Company built a 16 inch pipeline into Macleod in 1913 with the intention of supplying with gas the many factories it felt sure were about to pop up amid the railway shops. Its best customer was the Town, which that year completed its public works building and power generating station down by the River. Electric illumination, however, served only to cast light on the reports that hostility and fear in Europe had commandeered capital that had been ear-marked for investment in Canada. Macleods dreams of railroad greatness were moribund. Of the ten rail lines drawn on the Board of Trades map, besides the CPRs which were already in place by the end of the 1890s anyway, exactly Zero were built, though the Canadian Northern did go on to grade most of its roadbed from Calgary46 through Macleod and on to Stand Off, 30 kilometres south. The debt incurred by the Town would haunt it in the decades ahead.
The Alberta Rangers, who traced their lineage back to The Rocky Mountain Rangers which Captain Jno. Stewart organized in 1884 to secure the Eastern Slopes from feared Niitsi-tapi depredation, stationed part of their 28th Squadron at Macleod47 for the duration of The War to induct local boys into the grand adventure and give them some basic training. As well, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur C. Kemmis, a squadron of the 3rd Regiment of the 13th Canadian Mounted Rifles mustered at Macleod.
Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District
Though war spending funnelled a bit of cash into Macleods coffers, it was agriculture which buoyed the economy. Local lads (and lasses, after a womens wing was added in 1922) seeking to improve upon their farming technique could go to the School of Agriculture at Claresholm, some 25 miles up the C&E from Macleod. In 1914 the price of wheat was $1.60 per bushel, rising to $2.50 by the end of the War in 1918, leading local farmers to hope for a comfortable living, if not wealth.
This is dark brown Chernozem soil country. It is good soil for agriculture, averaging seven inches deep with organic matter ranging from 4 to 6%. However, it only gets 20 inches of precipitation in a really wet year, with much less being the norm. In 1910 and 1914, notes T.C. Noble in his article History of the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District in Coyote Flats: Historical Review 19051985 (Coyote Flats Historical Society, 1975), drought conditions pertained in southern Alberta, robbing grain farmers of the opportunity to profit from the high price of wheat. With the benefits water on the local soils evident on lands served by the St. Marys River irrigation project south and east of Lethbridge, in October of 1910 area farmer George Pearson began a campaign to convince federal authorities of the suitability of the vast level landsCoyote Flatsnorth of the Oldman for irrigation. His efforts won the support of many farmers on The Flats and their insistence finally compelled the Reclamation Service of the Department of the Interior to send out surveyors in 1913 to examine The Flats and propose a route for a main irrigation canal. On November 20, 1914, the first meeting of land-owners to organize an irrigation district was convened in Coalhurst on the extreme south-eastern tip of The Flats, some 40 kilometres east on the present Crowsnest Highway from Fort Macleod.
For two years the Reclamation Service crews surveyed the terrain and in 1915 finally concluded that the ideal place to tap into the Oldman to drain water onto The Flats with a minimum of digging and expenditure on hardware was in the north-east corner of the Piikani reserve. The Piikani, who had already seen some 36 square miles trimmed from their reserve around 1910, were unenthusiastic, to say the least, and, with Canada sending every healthy young man it could spare to Europe to learn all about torpedoes and trench mortars, Mills bombs, mustard gas, Maxim machine guns and Sopwith Camels, the Old Man River Project was shelved.
On September 20th, 1919, having just harvested their poorest crop in five years, the vast majority of the resident land owners near the proposed alignment of the Peigan canal met at Twelve Mile School and voted to form the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District (LNID) under Albertas Irrigation Districts Act. This was accomplished that October, H.B. Muckleston forthwith engaged as chief engineer for the project, and application was made to the Provincial Irrigation Council to sell $5.4 millions in debentures to finance construction.48 As the province would guarantee these debentures, it took until September 13th, 1920, for the Council to evaluate the proposal and finally authorize the sale. With a licence in its portfolio to divert 200,000 acre/feet annually from the Oldmans flow and the prospect of money accumulating,49 the LNID began to exert serious political pressure on the Department of Indian Affairs to transfer some 205 acres of Piikani land to the District upon which to built the main canals headgates. So confident was it that the land would be obtained that even while negotiations with the Band were on-going,50 the LNID held a ground-breaking ceremony at the coal community of Commerce on June 16th, 1921, at which the guests of honour were the lieutenant-governor of Alberta, Charles Stewart, and the Father of the Project, George Pearson. Ironically, it was raining that Thursday. On the 21st51 the District awarded the main construction contracts to Grant, Smith & Company and McDonnell Limited. Soon their big Bucyrus steam-powered dragline was employing its three cubic yard-capacity bucket excavating the main canal.52
As host to the contractors crews, Macleod boomed for a couple of years. New buildings were raised, the cafés and hotels were packed, the boot-leggers were run off their feet. The Spanish Flu had devastated the Town in October of 1918, and many felt that the good times were long overdue. The crop had failed in 1920, and again in 1921 as the big Bucyrus scooped and piled tons of soil along the line of the Main. On October 29th,53 1922, the project was declared complete, but it was judged too late in the season to run any water that year. On May 1st of the next year, 1923, the diversion gates on the Oldman were raised and, guided by a weir which stretches almost 200 metres shore to shore across the River, water foamed into the new canal to be flumed and siphoned 53 miles north-eastward to a depression in the Flats which filled to become a 41,000-acre-foot reservoir, Keho Lake. The smaller Park Lake and the Picture Butte Reservoir were also formed.
To administer the project, the District was divided into four units, each with a resident water master who meted out the waters. Each Unit had also a contingent of ditch riders who serviced the water contracts and kept an eye on the infrastructure. From dividing boxes installed in the Main, farmers had fresnod distribution ditches to 22,000 acres of fields, and that May of 1923 there were smiles and handshakes all around as the farmers looked forward to independence from Natures meagre provision of precipitation.
As if resenting the theft of its waters, the Oldman arose that May 31st, 1923, engorged with spring run-off, and wiped out 100,000 dollars worth of flume and canal, subjecting the farmers to another season of Natures parsimonious precipitation. A loan from the Alberta government saw the repairs effected by that October, but required that the District increase water rates to $5.25 per acre per year to shoulder the debt. Many farmers simply could not afford the added expense and faced surrender of their lands. They formed the Water Users Association and petitioned the province for assistance. Rather than see the scheme fail, Edmonton paid off the Districts accumulated debt, eventually writing off some $7 millions of it and taking over the Districts administration in 1927.54
Watered, the Dark Brown Chernozem soil of this region proves bountiful. Sugar beets, hydrophiles all, grow with vigour,55 and in a cycle largely unaffected even by drought as terrible as the dirty thirties, thousands of bushels of hard grain are yearly reaped and hauled into Macleods trackside elevators.
The great drawback to the LNIDs scheme had always been the lack of an on-stream reservoir. Of the 203 square miles of irrigable land within the Districts 360 square-mile area, a maximum of only 156 square miles had ever been irrigated56 due to the Oldmans stingy supply of water. Come mid-summer every year, the headgates would be closed and the fields thrown on their own reserves for a couple of weeks. This changed in 1991 with the completion of the Oldman River Dam. Behind it some 500 million cubic metres of water can gather with the melting of the snowpack, awaiting the needs of the regional irrigators.
The RCMPolice and the old Fort
On May 31st, 1917, the Town of Macleod had counted 1,811 residents. On the first of March the Province of Alberta had cancelled its policing contract with the RN-WMP and constituted its own force, the Alberta Provincial Police (APP). Until their contract was renewed with the deactivation of the APP on March 31st, 1932, there was not a lot for the Mounties to do in Macleod, but because the administration of Indian Reserves fell under Ottawas jurisdiction, a federal police presence was required in the region. In 1919, RN-WMP Headquarters, located since December of 1882 at Regina, decided to disband Macleods D Division and replace it with reserve squadron M, headquartered with H Division in Lethbridge. Macleod was reduced to a mere outpost.
In the wake of the Winnipeg Riot of June 21st, 1919, and anxious lest Bolshevik revolutionary arguments excite Canadian workers impoverished by the post-W.W.I recession, R.L Bordens Unionist regime in Ottawa concluded that the country needed a national police force capable of suppressing dissent anywhere in the Dominion. By an Order-in-Council on February 1st, 1920, the Federal cabinet amalgamated the RN-WMP with the Dominion Police, named the result the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and, as befitting a national force, removed its Headquarters from Regina to Ottawa.57 At Macleod two years later, M was disbanded and most of the old Fort on the west side of Town was demolished as an eyesore and fire hazard. Only the barracks remained, home to the few Policemen posted out of Lethbridge. On June 1st, 1933, having already surrendered the last of their Macleod property to the Department of the Interior in 1929, the RCMP moved into their rented office in Town, abandoning the Fort site forever.
In a three-day blow-out beginning on Dominion Day, 1924, Macleod celebrated its golden anniversary, 50 years as a community. Mayor John W. McDonald welcomed his counterpart from nearby Lethbridge, W.D.L. Hardie, who had the famous pioneer pilot and radio entrepreneur, Jock Palmer, fly him over to mark the occasion in a scary little Standard J-1. The hoopla, however, was tempered somewhat by the Towns financial circumstances. At the height of railroad fever in the early Teens, the Town had borrowed substantially to build infrastructure in anticipation of a great influx of population and industry. The boom had not materialized and debt continued to grow as interest was added to principal in a vicious circle of refinancing. Finally, in 1924, creditors forced Macleod into declaring bankruptcy. The province stepped in, consolidating the Towns debts in a 500,000-dollar loan at 4% with the stipulation that for the next 50 years the corporation of Macleod could borrow no money to spend on infrastructure. This proviso effectively discouraged private investment. Macleod fell into a state of suspended development, freezing it in Time, ensuring that it remained the unique place to visit that it is today.
Along with every other town on the Prairies, Macleod suffered during the 1930s. Though its irrigated northern hinterland could grow almost any temperate climate crop for which there was a market, there were no markets. In 1930, after years of averaging $1.40 per bushel, wheat dropped to $0.65. In 1932 when a great plague of grasshoppers stripped the fields, trees and ditches of everything green, it hardly mattered, for the return on a bushel of wheat was $0.34, below what it cost to produce it. Farm debt, reported the Gazette,58 which had built to an average of around $10 per acre in the booming 20s when many bought new and bigger machinery, crippled family income, forcing thousands off their land, leaving those who remained to moil along in poverty, living off what they could grow and pitifully little else. In the Macleod area, as in the entire western Canadian grain belt, year after year saw no rainfall. What little a family could grow was often beaten flat by hail or mowed down by grasshoppers and cutworms. Hot summer winds sent towering clouds of dust drifting east as far as New York. Small banks, forced by policy to foreclose on property to recover loans, folded, the owners of thousands of acres of unsellable land and thousands of dollars of unrecoverable debt. Business owners struggled to extend credit to their customers, many going broke with the effort. Eroding tax-bases endangered civic and government services: businesses meant that communities defaulted. They were terrible, spirit-breaking years, aptly called the Dirty Thirties. However, as the decade burnt to an end, the rains returned. The Plains blossomed, the Worlds economy started to recover, and along with it, Macleods.
The British Commonwealth Air Training Programme
Blessed with weeks on end of perfect visibility and predictable winds, with a relatively flat countryside all gridded into cardinally aligned strips of quarter mile squares, and with grain elevator sign-posted towns to act as supply depôts and a serviceable transportation infrastructure, the Prairies of western Canada is ideal flying country.
Britain declared war on Germany and Austria on September 3rd, 1939; exactly one week later, after some soul-searching and isolationist rhetoric, Canadas Liberal government of Wm. Lyon Mackenzie King followed suit. Needing a place to train warriors remote from the fighting and yet near enough for relatively convenient access59, Britain looked to Canadas wide-open spaces. So close to the ceaseless production lines of America, the Dominion quickly became a training grounds for allied troops, particularly airmen.
The agreement creating the British Commonwealth Air Training Program (BCATP) was signed by representatives of New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, and Canada, in Ottawa on December 17th, 1939. To western Canada the organization came, concentrating first on leasing land and hiring people near Trans-Canada Airway facilities in Liberal constituencies, then in any constituency where-in there were facilities, then, if needs be, at places where there were no facilities. It was a bonanza for any community chosen; runways to be graded, local lumber mills running overtime to produce the titanic timbers with which hangars were built, and the ordinary lumber for offices, shops, and barracks by the score. The last vestiges of the Depression vanished under the tide of money. At the height of the programme, claims David J. Carter in Prairie WingsRAF 34 Service Flying Training School, Medicine Hat 19411944 (Eagle Butte Press, Elkwater, AB, 2001), 107 schools at 231 locations across the West were training personnel,60 employing some 10,000 aircraft and 100,000 service men, women both military and civilian to do so. One point six billion dollars changed hands over the life of the Programme.61 Glancing over a few of the old Department of Mines 1:50,000 scale topographical maps of Southern Alberta, one spots dozens of the double-line triangles which designated airfields. Many survive, and communities that would never have dreamed of being an airplanes destination, today own facilities, crude as they may be, thanks to the BCATP.62
To Macleod came the No. 7 Service Flight Training School. The Town had already entertained the idea of joining the Air Age, like nearby Lethbridge, going so far as to purchase a plot of land for a landing field on the 22nd of November, 1935. It took the BCAPT to realize Macleods dreams, however, and the Workers employed by Fred Mannix & Company were likely still finishing the runways and the drill hall on December 18th, 1940, when lieutenant-governor John Campbell Bowen officially opened the facility at Macleod. Soon the Towns sky resonated with the cough of Jacobs L-6MB seven-cylinder radial engines, Shaky Jakes, and Armstrong-Siddeley Cheatah IXs, as twin-engined Avro Ansons buzzed around with the occasional de Havilland Tiger Moth or Stearman two-seater bi-plane wandering in from the nearby Pearce field or Lethbridge. No. 7 left on October 26 of 1944.
Well constructed, the buildings on the airport property housed many other enterprises in the years since the war. Most were short-lived efforts and so there was plenty of space when in 1963 Creston Sawmills Limited, having obtained a permit to cut timber in southern Alberta, leased three of the 1941 hangars, set up its Fort Plywood & Lumber Company, and began production on September 27th. Veneer, according to the authors of Our First 100 Years: From Cranbrook Sash and Door Co. to Crestbrook Forest Industries Limited (Crestbrook Forest Industries, Cranbrook, 1998), imported from the companys Creston plant was glued and pressed into sheathing-grade plywood. The particle-board and composite panel industries had destroyed the companys market by the mid-80s so the plant switched to the manufacture of high-grade panelling using oak and other imported woods. The project withered and was shut down by its eventual owner, Crestbrook Forest Industries, in July of 1991.
In a couple of the other hangars General Coach and Trailer had set up manufacturing facilities in the mid-60s to be near the plywood plant. General Coachs premises, unfortunately, burned to the ground on January 2nd, 1968, and the company decided to relocate its operations in similar structures at Kenyon Field at Lethbridge rather than rebuild. At one time, according to D.G. Wetherwell and I.R.A. Kmet in their Homes in Alberta: Building, Trends and Design, 19701967 (University of Alberta Press, Edmonton, 1991), Estevan Industries made large, aluminum-faced Esta Villa mobile homes, likely in one of the old base buildings. Come 2005 several of the hangars and ancillary buildings still survive, overlooking acres of over-grown aprons and concrete runways to the south, slashed through with a modern, 914-metre-long asphalt runway aligned parallel to the prevailing wind, about 70º east of North. A couple of the structures are still occupied.
24 hours in Fort Macleod
At tourists day in Fort Macleod begins at the fort. Though it looks the part, never once did a member of the N-WMPolice shelter behind its palisade.
Enjoying the festivities that celebrated Macleods 75th anniversary in 1949, citizens began to realize that they needed something more than agriculture to underpin their Towns economy. With little local evidence of petroleum-rich reefs like those lying beneath other areas of Alberta, those concerned with the Towns welfare began to cast around for another source of income. They identified that source as Tourism with the hook being the communitys involvement with the North-West Mounted Police. The first step, the citizenry decided, was to revert to the Towns original name, Fort Macleod, On April 1st, 1952, the change received assent under the laws of the Province of Alberta, and was proclaimed July 1st.
Though the Town was again Fort, Macleod, there was no fort. After the Oldman drowned their original 1874 Fort on its island in the Oldman in 1883, the Police built a second Fort on lands immediately west of what is now the Town. Federal surveyors laid out the present townsite downwind of the Fort which was completely razed by 1933. In fact, an amateurs leisurely examination of an aerial photo of the Town taken 1950/10/05 detects absolutely no trace of the old structures. Since the photo was taken the site has become home to the rodeo grounds and all trace of the second fort have been trampled into the mud likely beyond the Marshalltowns magic reach.
Fully dedicated to the Tourist business, the Towns council set about addressing the lack of a fort. Under the leadership of Norman Grier, president of the Fort Macleod Historical Association, a large property on 25th Street near old downtown Main Street was acquired. Plans which adhered closely to what experts thought the original fort must have looked like were drawn up, and work began on May 27th, 1957. With the combined assistance of several service clubs, the structure was realized at a cost of merely $25,000. On July 1st, 1959, it was officially opened.
Because it is not authentic does not mean that the fort is just a tourist trap: it is the guardian of many historical artefacts and irreplaceable records. Within the compound is the Mounted Police Building, home to the official N-WMP Museum which traces the Mounties early history and devotes much space to the local First Nations culture. Part of the Building houses the Towns archives and tourist office. Sharing the compound are several original buildings gathered from the region; Henry Alfred Fred Kanouses old sod-roofed, log-walled whiskey trading post, Frederick William Aplin George Haultains law office before he moved to Regina as the premier of the N-WT in 1897. Theres even one of the muzzle-loading cannon from Fort Whoop-Up: a nine-pounder with a two-inch bore cast by H.A. Dimick in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1846. Other structures replicate a smithy typical of the 1880s, a bunkhouse, a stable, et cetera, while perched on the River bank outside the walls at the western end of the stockade is the weathered old two-storeyd clapboard C.W. Stevens building, a veteran of 1897 rescued from destruction on Main Street, now a period general store operated by the Museum. From the catwalk cantilevered out from the inside of the palisade one is afforded a pleasant view out over the valley of the Oldman.
The Historical Association of 50 years ago must be congratulated for its foresight; the fort is not only one of the major tourist attractions in southern Alberta, but a valuable venue for historical research.
Expanding on a theme, some of the buildings on the original fort site west of Town are being replicated since 2004.
Having explored the fort and pondered the trinkets in the C.W. Stevens store, visitors supplied with the latest edition of A Walking/Driving Guide of Fort Macleods Historic Downtown and Residential Area (Historic Sites Service of Alberta Culture and Multiculturism, Edmonton, circa 1985) tend to mosey south down Haultain2nd Avenueto the Queens Hotel on Main24thStreet and there to marvel for a few moments at Fort Macleods central business district, wondering why it seems to have gone into a state of suspended animation around the end of the Great War. The Guide, of course, reveals the answer: [i]n 1924 the accumulated debt forced the [T]own to accept a low interest loan with the caveat that the [T]own refrain from borrowing money for improvements or expansion for 50 years. By the time the caveat expired, Albertans realized that the residents of The Fort lived in an historical treasure and the movement was afoot to preserve it. In March of 1981, when the town council first approached the Alberta Ministry of Culture requesting that Fort Macleods core be declared a Provincial Historic Area, volunteers and businesses were already at work refurbishing and preserving some thirty historically important buildings in the towns core, most of which line Main Street. When the Ministrys Declaration was announced on May 14th of 1984, grant money began to flow into the project, and the result is what visitors see today; a photograph from 1920 come to life.
On the south side of Main, a block west from the Queens is the hulk of the American Hotel, doing its best as a windbreak for the rest of the street. Due west of the Queens across 2nd, kitty-corner from its original one-storey brick built home, the new Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce building obliterates any trace of the Hudsons Bay Company store which occupied the site for so many years. Eastward from the Queens past a few ancient facades and Johnnysthe former RexCafé, is the oldest operating theatre in Alberta, the Empress, which since it first opened its doors on June 29th, 1912, has entertained patrons with lectures and vaudeville, classical plays and movies both silent and talkie.63
Farther east, about in the middle of the block, a front of a narrow vacant lot has been pressed into service to carry the Devonian Walkway away from Main and north across pea-gravelled parking lots to the fort and museum. At the entrance to the Walkway are a pair of hip-high plinths planted in the sidewalk facing their twins across the Street. Into each plinth has been imbedded a bronze plaque cast with a likeness of the architectural elevations of the buildings opposite. The aforementioned Walking Guide examines most of the facades and details the history of the buildings behind them.
Many visitors to Fort Macleod restrict their exploration of the Towns past to a promenade up and down main. They are cheating themselves, for much more history still lingers in buildings and on sites not far away. Walking a half-block north on 3rd Avenue from Main, in the alley behind Jerry Potts Boulevard25th Streetis the dilapidated hovel which once housed the OK Chinese Laundry, a poignant reminder that it wasnt just Indians and transplanted Europeans who grew Fort Macleod. Another block up 3rd, on the other side of 25th roughly opposite the eastern end of the fort, stands the century old wood-framed Holy Cross church, its pristine white siding stark against a backdrop of dark blue storm clouds crowding each other in the eastern sky. Built 23 years after the parish of St. Croix was established by Fathers Scollen and Doucette in 1874, it is the pride of the Catholic Church in Fort Macleod. A few blocks south, on 21st Street between 3rd and 4th avenues, is the 1886 Christ Church Anglican, nearby the Presbyterian church raised in 1890. Out on the far north-east corner of Town are the N-WMP burial plots in the Union and Catholic cemeteries and the grave of Jerry Potts. Not buried there64 is the famous suffragist, Henrietta Muir Edwards, who died in Macleod in 1931, having moved to the Town upon the death of her husband in 1915.
Suppertime, and on the south side of Main opposite the mouth of the Devonian Walkway is the Leather Block, half of which is the Silver Grill where one might partake of the popular Oriental smorgasbord and ponder Fort Macleods wild-west past. The antique pressed-tin ceiling lends ambiance and the fancy bullet holed bar-room mirror65 lends authenticity to stories about Butch Cassidys side-kick, the Sundance Kid, working as a ranch-hand in this area between jobs south of the Line.
Though that famous movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford was not filmed in Fort Macleod, many others have been. Ang Lee found that the community and environs provided the perfect ambiance and scenery to backdrop his noted 2005 production, Brokeback Mountain. That movie got mixed reviews in The Fort.
Finished the Silver Grills oh, so bland rendition of chop suey, a railway enthusiast might be pleased to see that there is enough light left in the sky to make an excursion south down 2nd past the new Post Office66 and across nine largely residential streets.
Standing in the middle of the intersection of 2nd Avenue and 15th StreetHaultain and North Railwaya visitor is in no danger: at almost any minute of the year in Fort Macleod, this crossing just isnt that busy. On the north-east corner a welding shop is incarcerated in its yard behind chain link fencing, dappled by the rays of the setting sun fractured and reflected by the silverd tower and corrugated steel silos of the Macleod Feed Mills Limited Shur-Gain feed and fertilizer mill occupying the north-west corner of the intersection. South to the left, the blue on white paint scheme of the huge Agricore United elevator and annex betray their United Grain Growers, Limited, heritage.67 To the right a block, the weathered sage-green ex-Alberta Pool elevator stands condemned, wearily eyeing the eight huge, steel silos of the Agricore United inland grain terminal on the CNL mainline west of town a mile on the approximate site of Haneyville. South, beyond the pair of over-grown, undulating spurs serving the elevators, and the oil-soaked ties of the Crows Nest Lines mainline and siding, with the whole towering sky as a backdrop, Fort Macleods small industrial park of welding shops, parts stores and lumber yard hides a trailer park farther south and the tiny suburban sprawl of South Macleod. West of the Park a mile or two, just south of the inland terminal and CPs Yards with their vanished roundhouse and sidings, are the surviving structures of the airbase.
Now, had one been loitering in the middle of this intersection during the business hours of a day in, say, 1911, hed likely have been in somebodys way; 2nd at 15th was a busy node of commerce. The boardwalks spoke of stacked leather boot heels and sturdy frontier shoes; doors slammed, men laughed, shouted, horses neighed and farted. Wet and slick during springs thaw and in a rare rain, the roads stank of manure and careful people picked their path cautiously; dry, the roads added roils of dust to the incessantly eastward moving air with each passing of a grain waggon, saddle horse or William Francis (Billy) Cochranes steam-powered Locomobile, reputed to have been the first motorized carriage in Alberta. There were elevators where there are elevators now, there was a lumber yard close by. On the north-east corner where stand the welding shop, the big old wood-framed Empire Hotel had stood since 1906; where the Shur-Gain is, some stores and offices. Where today 2nd just sort of peters out against the tracks 25 yards south of 15th, in 1911 stood the CPRs station.
Through good times and bad, since it was relocated to this site in 1907, the Station anchored 2nd Avenue and commanded the activity out in the Yards around the roundhouse and the coaling docks, the water and sand towers. For some good reason, on a slight down-grade a little siding was laid out so that it dead-ended against the west side of the Station. At 0400 hours on July 15th, 1911, two fellows relaxing in the Gentlemens Waiting Room got the thrill of their lives when a passenger coach, the first car in a little train that had overcome its brakes on the grade and picked up enough momentum to overcome the blockage at the end of the siding, smashed into their reveries, destroying the room, moving the station some eight inches off of its foundations, necessitating an extensive, expensive rebuild. In the 1930s the same thing happened again when a laden box car broke free from its train, overran the track-end chocks and bashed a new entrance into the waiting room. Considering the accident too freakish to occur a third time, CP simply shortened the spur by a rail length and left it. With the adoption of the Diesel in the mid-50s, many of the Companys structures associated with steam locomotives were demolished one by one until, come January 31st, 1967, the Station was left standing alone amidst the elevators. That frosty evening another boxcar escaped its train and picked up speed enough to smash over the chocks and crush a truck and a couple of automobiles into the Station. Gas tanks exploded and within seconds the entire structure was, as fire chief wrote in his report, fully involved. Having ended its passenger service on the Southern Mainline through The Fort on January 17th, 1964, CP saw no reason to rebuild, and today only a few chunks of concrete foundation scattered around the periphery of what has since become an informal vehicle park mark the Stations location.
Its been a long, hot day of sight-seeing in Fort Macleod, and the thirsty traveller, considering the miles he must cycle on the morrow, repairs yonder to the historic beer parlour of the Queens Hotel to balance his electrolytes. Health is important, and it is a pleasure to surrender ones thirst to a few fresh Warthog ales imported by the Queens from Calgarys justly famous Big Rock Brewery.
Leaving Fort Macleod eastwards
Pity the poor cyclist, head throbbing, tummy rolling, barely able to face down a short stack of hot cakes decked with a couple of easy over eggs, the morning specialty of the Java Shop. Lured by historical curiosity and impelled by a throat distressed by the parching westerly winds, the fool succumbed to the ambiance of the Queens Hotel beer parlour the evening before. Too bad the Macleod Brewery wasnt still in business supplying the Queens with Andertons Bitter Ale and Extra Stout: could have drank those instead of fighting with those mean ol Warthogs. Joni Mitchell commiserates from the juke-box, looking a clouds from both sides now. She was born Roberta Joan Anderson in Fort Macleod way back in…, well, U best ask her.
Lingering over an after-breakfast cuppa joe, the cyclist notes with gratitude the breeze with which Æolus is beginning to coax the dust eastward in the gutters of 23rd Street. The shadows are shortening; time to go. Outside on the sidewalk the bike is laden and patient. A machine patient? Enough anthropomorphication: steel and plastic and aluminium alloy with a few bits of canvas hanging on them are all they are. No soul, to sentience. With an appreciative glance at the mansard-roofed Union Bank building68 of 1902 opposite the Java Shop, the cyclist rolls out onto Chief Red Crow Boulevard eastbound and cranks past the 1902 Court Housethe oldest surviving courthouse building in Alberta.69 It is now Fort Macleods Town Hall. Next door east is the new Provincial Building where the court now convenes.
Formerly 23rd Street, Chief Red Crow takes the south-bound No. 2 and the east-bound Crowsnest Highway No. 3 and sweeps them due east to the far end of Fort Macleod and the Chamber of Commerce Info. Centre before bending southward to parallel Jerry Potts Boulevard bringing the Highways north and west-bound traffic into the Fort. Nearby is the popular new Thriftys Foods emporium, the old 24th Street IGAs only real competition in town. Rumbling over the rails of the Crows Nest Line, the highways, maintaining a strict division of their opposing lanes, split, No. 2 heading more or less straight south to cut across 30 kilometres of Kainaa Reserve lands to get to Cardston 60 Kay away, and then to the Boundary at Carway/Port of Piegan, 35 Kay beyond. The No. 3, now styled The Red Coat Trail as well as The Crowsnest Highway, gracefully curves east north-eastward as it heads across mounds of glacial till on its way to Monarch and Lethbridge.