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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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The Bar U Ranch, Part One

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The Rocky Mountains form an impressive backdrop for the buildings of the Bar U Ranch. Located near Longview, just south of Calgary, the ranch is now a national historic site.

And as historian Simon Evans explains, the Bar U dates back to the cattle boom of the 1880s.

The original capital came from the Allen family, of Montreal. They were shipping magnates, and here - it would be the equivalent of the high tech stocks of the present time - a lot of people making a lot of money out of ranches, because Britain was industrializing, and the labour force there needed a protein-rich diet. And Britain's farms and cattle production just couldn't produce enough, particularly because they'd had a series of bad epidemics of foot-and-mouth disease.
So they looked to Canada and the United States, where the boom took-off and then spread into Canada, for beef. And, actually, cattle weren't shipped as beef, not frozen. They were live cattle, and hence the cattle boats, which moved out of the St. Lawrence and across to Liverpool and Smithfield and London, to feed the British population. And a lot of those came from ranches in Canada, and the Bar U in particular.

In the 1880s, with little settlement on the plains, the Canadian government was anxious to establish its sovereignty in the west. So ranches like the Bar U played an important role in the economic development of the prairies.

And it was evident that the United States, where there were some railways already spanning the continent, were looking northward, and thinking, well, nobody's using those plains up there, which are a continuation of our great plains, possibly there is room for American expansion up there.
And Prime Minister MacDonald was very keen to stop that kind of thinking - of Manifest Destiny moving northward - and that is why he promoted the Canadian Pacific Railway. And one of the problems with that was that there was no cargo. But if you could begin to develop ranching there, which seemed that it would have every likelihood of being successful, at once you'd have a massive cargo flowing back to eastern ports, and across to Britain.

The Bar U stayed in the hands of the Allen family until 1902. It was then purchased by George Lane, who was instrumental in starting the Calgary Stampede.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.