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James Walker

Officers of 15th Light Horse regimentJames Walker was born to Scottish immigrant parents on 14 April 1846, in a log cabin near Carluke, Ontario. By the age of 20, he had already achieved the rank of Captain, having attended the School of Gunnery—later renamed the Kingston Royal Military College—for the better part of his formative years.

He joined the Northwest Mounted Police when it was first established in 1873, and was stationed at Fort Macleod—the first permanent post in the west. Walker also served at Forts Battleford, Walsh, Pelly, and Calgary, and became known for his hard work and good-natured character. In his role as Indian Agent and negotiator, he gained the trust and admiration of not only the settlers but also the aboriginal community.

In 1876, Walker married Euphemia Davidson Quarrie, who gave birth to their only child, a son named Selby. Selby is credited with the foundation of The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, a 34-hectare (80 acre) bird conservation site situated along the Bow River.

Walker stayed on with the NWMP until 1881, by which time he had earned the rank of superintendent. That year, he temporarily left his military career and became the first manager of The Cochrane Ranch Company, a 100,000 acre ranch located just west of Calgary.

In 1882, Walker left the ranching business and, seeing the economic potential of sawmills, became one of Canada’s first manufacturers when he established the Bow River Mills sawmill on the banks of the Elbow River. The mill was the primary source of lumber for the city’s rapidly expanding buildings and sidewalks, as well as for the Canadian Pacific Railway lines and bridges. As owner of the sawmill, Walker quickly became known for his fair business practices.

It was the CPR that led Walker to his involvement with the telephone. The original Calgary townsite was located just east of the junctions of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, present day East Calgary. It housed the Mounted Police barracks and all the big general stores, as well as Walker’s sawmill and his office. When the CPR arrived in 1883 to build the Calgary extension of the railway line, they decided that the original townsite was too cramped to expand into a city, and the train station was built 3.2 kilometres (two miles) west.

The stores and offices relocated west. Walker followed suite and also moved his office to the new townsite, but his lumberyard remained in its original location— two miles away. This situation presented the perfect opportunity for the placement of a telephone line, and this feat was accomplished by Walker in 1885. This development was only natural for Walker—in 1877, while still a member of the Mounted Police, he had been the first person to receive a telegraph message sent out of Alberta.

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