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Early Industry Case Studies

Bow Valley Beginnings

Eau Claire and Bow River Lumber Company By 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.

Log boom, Lethbridge, AlbertaThe 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.

Macfee's timing 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 proposals—even if they came from a region as underdeveloped as western Canada.

Macfee convinced 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 business.

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
Friends of Reynolds-Alberta Museum


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