Bow Valley Beginnings
the early 1880s, small mills existed to serve the limited needs of specific
districts. Many got started because of the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.).
Peter McLaren, a lumberman from eastern Canada, operated a mill in the Crowsnest
Pass that he had bought from the government in 1881. McLaren capitalized on the
C.P.R.'s demand for milled lumber and won the contract to provide railway ties
for the company. He later built another small operation, and gradually, the town
of Mountain Mill grew up around it. Another small operator, Colonel James
Walker, a retired North-West Mounted Police officer and former manager of the
Cochrane Ranch, also profited from the C.P.R. In 1882, Walker purchased the
small mill that had been used at the Ranch. With the arrival of the C.P.R., he
moved his enterprise to the Kananaskis region west of Calgary, established
ownership of a timber berth, and set about supplying the railway.
The arrival of
the C.P.R in Calgary in 1883, the economic boost that it provided for the
Calgary area, and the access to additional markets resulting from the rail line,
helped entrepreneurs to see the great potential of those forests just to the
west. Suddenly what had been unobtainable seemed less so, and eager minds
planned how best to make a fortune. One such individual was an Ottawa lawyer
with the unlikely name of Kutusoff Macfee.
Macfee knew a
good thing when he saw it. He also knew he would need the backing of
experts. To this end he went to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1882 to make his
pitch. Wisconsin was an excellent place to seek advice as it had been a centre
of major lumber interests since the middle of the nineteenth century.
could not have been better. By the 1880s, the lumber resources in the central
United States were being exhausted. The industry was at the point where it would
consider attractive proposalseven if they came from a region as
underdeveloped as western Canada.
three lumbermen to inspect the timber potential of the Morley, Kananaskis, and
Bow River areas, and in June 1883 he proposed a partnership in which he would
retain a quarter interest in all timber licenses. In return for his share of the
business, Macfee promised to use his influence in Ottawa to develop the
The proposal was
apparently accepted, and Isaac Kendal Kerr of the North West Lumber Company, and
William Cameron and Dan Donnellan of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, arrived in Calgary
in the summer of 1883. Macfee's partners were cautious businessmen and were not
about to risk good money on a venture that they had not inspected themselves.
Kelly Buziak. Toiling in the Woods: Aspects of the Lumber Business in Alberta to 1930. n.p.: Friends of Reynolds-Alberta
Museum Society and Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, Historic Sites and
Archives Service, 1992. With permission from
of Reynolds-Alberta Museum.