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No. 257: The Town of Fort Macleod

The town of Fort Macleod was established in 1874 as a post for the North West Mounted Police, after their great march west.

The post was originally built on an island in the Oldman River. But according to historian Don Wetherell, this location was not a very good one for a town.

In the early 1880s, the police ruled that, for defensive reasons, no civilian buildings could be built close to the post. And as well, there was ongoing speculation that the post might be closed, and of course an island location was not very good for trade, since goods and passengers had to ford the river.

And so the businesses that were located around the post lobbied the government to move the police post and the town onto the mainland. But the government was slow to act, and so people took matters into their own hands.

In 1883, a number of people simply moved-off the island and set-up their businesses on the banks of the river.

Finally, in 1884, the federal government responded by laying-out a new townsite, moving the police post, and auctioning-off the lots to the townspeople.

The new town quickly grew into a thriving centre for southern Alberta, and the future looked rosy until the railway arrived in 1892.

Well railway companies often made money by land development. They often established stations where the railway company owned land, and then they sold-off that land. And in Fort Macleod, the railway didn't own any land, and so when it arrived near the town in 1892, the railway company, which was the Calgary and Edmonton Railway, established a new townsite a few kilometres away as a rival and as a replacement for Fort Macleod.

So this was a direct threat to the town of Fort Macleod. If the railway succeeded with its new townsite, the old town of Fort Macleod would disappear, along with all the new investments in land and buildings of everyone who owned property there.

So people in Macleod were forced to fight back, and the townspeople united to pledge to boycott the new town by not buying land there, or not to operate or do business in the new town. And, as well, Fort Macleod was incorporated as a town to give it a formal government and institutions to fight the railway and the rival townsite.

The strategy worked. Fort Macleod survived, while the rail company's new town floundered. And in later years, the train station eventually relocated to Fort Macleod.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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