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Alberta Online Encyclopedia


The naming along the
Calgary - Edmonton Trail

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The highway linking Alberta's two major cities, Edmonton and Calgary, started out as a footpath between north and south. And as historian Merrily Aubrey explains, we know remnants of the original as the Calgary and Edmonton trail.

It's an old path, and it follows a glacial corridor, which makes it a very natural pathway. It's on the western margin of parkland making it more easily travelled than the dense forest to the west and the hilly land to the east.

The pathway had been used for a long, long time. Its northern portion, to about Ponoka, Edmonton to Ponoka, was travelled by David Thompson in 1800, and he referred to it as the Wolf's Track. This likely means that it was used by aboriginal people in the area, even longer before that time.

Other names that have been used for portions of the trail include, the Bow River Trail, the Fort Benton Trail, Old North Trail, and the Middle Black Foot Trail.

In 1873, the Methodist missionary John McDougall, and his brother David, blazed a path from Edmonton to a mission at Morley, just west of Calgary.

The route he took was to the Peace Hills, near present day Wetaskiwin, past the Bear Hills, near Hobbema, over the Red Deer River, and down to the Lone Pine, which is now near Olds, and on to the Bow River, about 80 kilometres upstream from present day Calgary.

In 1875 the North West Mounted Police established Fort Calgary, and they carved out a trail from there to the point where the McDougall's road veered-off from Lone Pine.

The traffic increased somewhat between the two forts and the trail became a branch of the commercial empire of Fort Benton in Montana, linking Fort Benton, which was the head of navigation on the Missouri, with Fort Edmonton and the fur trade. So it had a really long grasp there.

From 1875 or so, until the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Calgary in 1883, the Calgary and Edmonton trail was of some economic importance.

John McDougall said of his trail, describing the scarcity of people there, "this whole land in the spring of 1876 was without a single inhabitant," - and I assume that he mean white inhabitant.

But the arrival of the CPR at Calgary in 1883 brought dramatic changes, as increased numbers of settlers and freight used the trail to move north.

On the Heritage Trail, I'm Cheryl Croucher.


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