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

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Ranching in Alberta

Reverend John McDougall, 1842-1917, ca 1900. The first herd of breeding cattle was brought into southern Alberta in 1873 by Methodist Missionary John McDougall and his brother, David. Eleven cows and one bull were to provide the foundation for a ranching business that would finance their new mission at Morleyville on the Bow River. Kenneth McKenzie brought up a larger herd from Montana the following year.

When the North West Mounted Police came to the area from Manitoba in 1874, they brought 235 head of cattle with them. Over the following years, the increased market brought even more herds from Montana into the Canadian west, many of them owned by former Mounted Policemen intending to raise cattle after their three year terms of service had ended. Along with the animals came their drivers from the United States - famous cowmen like George Emerson and Tom Lynch. By 1879, the two men had begun their own ranching business in the Highwood River country, and with it a small cattle industry was born in the foothills region.

In eastern Canada and Britain the growing interest in beef and its potential profits gave the Canadian Government reason to endorse larger-scale ranching in the west. Not only would this local industry be beneficial to the Native peoples, whose livelihood had been destroyed with the demise of the buffalo herds, it would also provide added impetus for the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad across the prairies. In 1881, regulations were amended to allow the leasing of large tracts of land for the purpose of ranching. According to an Order-in-Council, any individual or any ranch company could lease up to 100,000 acres for the cost of one cent per acre, per year. In exchange, they would have three years to stock their ranch with a minimum of one head of cattle for every ten acres of land. The leases would be sold to the highest bidder at auction, and would last for twenty-one years.

By 1882, 9,000 head of cattle grazed on the land of the North West Territories, and the applications for leases covered four million acres between the Bow River and the national boundary alone.

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  • The Bar U Ranch: Part One - The Bar U Ranch's success in the 1880s owed much to Britain's demand for beef.
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  • The Bar U Ranch: Part Two - The Bar U hosted a famous outlaw and a famous artist. Hear about the celebrities associated with this ranch!
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  • Bar U Ranch: Prince Edward Comes to Visit - His experience at the Bar U so impressed Edward, the Prince of Wales, that he bought a ranch for himself. Hear about the prince's visit to Longview, Alberta.
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  • Bar U Ranch: Gee Bong Polo Club - There was more to recreation at the Bar U than you might expect. See what challenging sport the cowboys played for fun!
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  • Bar U Ranch: Percheron Horses - As the market for cattle declined, George Lane decided to breed horses, and built the world's best Percheron ranch of the time.
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  • Bar U Ranch: The Life of the Cowboys - Learn about the many types of men on a ranch like the Bar U, from the riders to the choreboys!
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  • Bar U Ranch: Cowboy Life - Listen to Simon Evans explain living conditions for the riders at the Bar U, and hear about the famous cowboy, Charlie Miller.
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  • Bar U Ranch: Aboriginal Cowboys - First Nation peoples contributed greatly to the success of the ranches like the Bar U.
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  • The Mexico Ranch - Lord Beresford had ranched in Mexico, so when he came to the badlands of Alberta, he named his cattle operation the Mexico Ranch. Hear more about the history of this fascinating site.
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  • Sheridan Lawrence Ranch - When Henry Lawrence first came to the Peace River area, the area had not even been opened for settlement. But in a few years, he had both a family and a successful ranching operation.
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  • Stampede Ranch at Longview - The Stampede Ranch was famous not for its cattle, but for its hospitality. It even became the set of several Hollywood westerns!
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