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The naming of Fort Macleod

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The historic trail between Calgary and Fort MacLeod dates back to the days when the North West Mounted Police first arrived in southern Alberta.

But, as historian Merrily Aubrey notes, Fort MacLeod was established by Lieutenant Colonel James Farquharson MacLeod, who led a contingent of Mounties west in 1874.

MacLeod took the route from the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana, and turned west at Writing-on-Stone. He went west, past Coutts, north to west of Nine Mile Butte, east of Kit Coulee, skirting west of 15 Mile Butte, on past Fort Whoop-Up. The route then veered westward at Coalbanks and on to the site chosen for Fort MacLeod.

Now the original fort was built on an island in the Oldman River, but it was later moved. There were several floods and it kind of convinced them it would be a good idea to get out of that particular spot.

Nine-Mile Butte and 15 Mile Butte were named for their relative distance from Fort Whoop-Up, which is near present-day Lethbridge.

In it short existence, Fort Whoop-Up developed a notoriety of legendary proportions.

It was established first in 1869 as Fort Hamilton, at the Junction of the Oldman and St. Mary's Rivers. It was named for Alfred B. Hamilton of Montana who, in partnership with John Healy, set-up a whiskey trading post there.

In its first year it was burned down by the Blackfoot, and rebuilt in 1870 as Fort Whoop-Up. The trade was short-lived, however. With the arrival of the Northwest Mounted Police in 1874, the whiskey posts were, thankfully, abandoned.

At Fort MacLeod, the Lieutenant Colonel hung a buffalo head over the doorway to his residence. The Blackfoot called MacLeod "Bull's Head," and in their language, the name they gave to Fort MacLeod is translated as, "Home of the Head of a Bull."

But MacLeod and his Mounties didn't tarry long at the new fort.

Well, after the Northwest Mounted Police established Fort MacLeod in 1874, the north to south line of communication between the U.S. boundary and the North Saskatchewan needed a post in between. So, on April the 10th, 1875, yet another order-in-council was signed in Ottawa to that effect, and a site in the neighborhood of the Bow River was favoured.

The contingent of Mounties travelled to the McDougall mission at Morley and eventually turned eastward, following the Bow.

The site chosen for the new fort was rich in game and wood. The waters were clear and the landscape breathtaking. And when the post was erected, MacLeod called it Fort Calgary, after a favourite place in Scotland.

On the Heritage Trail, I'm Cheryl Croucher.


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