James 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
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
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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Heritage Community Foundation and
Telephone Historical Centre All Rights Reserved