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Calgary Cavalcade

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Calgary Cavalcade - from fort to fortune. A book written by Grant MacEwan and dedicated to the North West Mounted Police who founded the City of Calgary in 1875. Calgary Cavalcade
From Fort to Fortune
Copyright 1975 Western Producer Book Service
200 pages,
ISBN 0-919306-50-0.

Where The Elbow Joins The Bow

On a bright day late in August, 1875, Inspector A. E. Brisebois and fifty Mounted Police rode across prairie now bearing the district name of Crescent Heights and halted on the high bank of the Bow River,about at the end of today's 2nd Street, North East, Calgary. There they surveyed the expanse of natural beauty laid out on all sides, knowing at once they were close to destination and an opportunity to relax.

Behind them was "The Nose," that 4,000-foot eminence known later as Spy Hill, atop of which Reverend John McDougall stood a few years before and saw more buffalo on the plains "than a hundred men could count in a day." Before them, extending picturesquely toward glistening mountains, were trees, grasslands, and billowing hills. And off at the left was the point at which the Swift or Elbow River joined the Bow.

"Our first sight of this lovely spot," wrote a member of the troop, "was one never to be forgotten and one to which only a poet could do justice." Until that moment there was some doubt about the exact place to be chosen for the new fort; now there was none. The men were eager to cross the river and pitch their tents on the lightly wooded ground in the angle of the two rivers. Riders as well as horses were weary, having been on the mosquito-infested trail mare than twice as long as was contemplated when leaving Fort Macleod a full month before.

These young men, members of the recently organized North West Mounted Police, had been in the country less than a year. Fort Macleod had been built on the Oldman River but there was need for additional outposts in this uneasy Indian territory. In the spring of 1875, men of the Force rode to the Cypress Hills to build what became known as Fort Walsh; and at the beginning of August, Police Scout Jerry Potts led the way for Inspector Brisebois and his troop carrying instructions to select a suitable site for a fort on the Bow River and prepare for building.

Assistant Commissioner J. F. Macleod remained behind to receive a message from Ottawa but later overtook his men at the Bow River, straight north of Fort Macleod. The message necessitated a change of plans; Major-General Selby-Smyth, Commander of the Canadian Militia, was in the West and anxious to meet Colonel Macleod at a designated point on the Red Deer River.

Instead of pursuing the search for a building site, the Mounties continued northward and, after another six days of riding, touched the Red Deer River directly south of Buffalo Lake. Before the police had time to groom their horses and themselves for the meeting, however, a courier rode in to inform Colonel Macleod that the General had decided to travel from Fort Edmonton by a more westerly route, less exposed to the eyes of belligerent Indians. His new proposal was to meet the police at the river crossing about two miles above the present city of Red Deer.

There beside the river, with more spit and polish than the buffalo country had witnessed before, the meeting was held and the police troops were formally inspected. The General then continued on his way southward, accompanied by Colonel Macleod and Jerry Potts. That left Brisebois and the men of F Troop to pursue their original purpose. Their southerly course brought them to the Bow River close to the mouth of the Ghost and then along the stream to stop their tired and thin horses at the point mentioned, a few hundred yards east of the north end of today's Centre Street Bridge.

"That looks like the place," Brisebois commented with arm outstretched. "That must be the spot Jerry Potts told us about."

At once, Constable George Clift King was instructed to locate a suitable ford to take men and horses to the other side. King's horse took him across without mishap, about where the Langevin Bridge was built many years later, and thus King was the first of the Mounties to set foot on the site from which the city was to emerge. The same man had other distinctions; after taking discharge from the Force two years later, he became manager of the I.G. Baker store at Fort Calgary, then the town's first postmaster, and in 1886 the town's mayor.

The other members of F Troop followed King across the river, hobbled their horses and began without delay to erect their tents close to the Elbow. All their first impressions were confirmed. "It was by far the most beautiful spot we had seen since coming West," one of the men related later.

Little wonder that such a location-offering firewood, clear glacial water, excellent makings for bows and arrows, and fish in the streams-carried Indian names meaning "Good Place For Teepees." David One Spot, patriarch of the Sarcee, said so. Moreover, this was for long a place favored by those seeking to commune with the Great Spirit, and on many occasions through the years, Sun Dance lodges were erected right there where a modern city thoroughfare now conveys thousands of motor vehicles a day.

Strolling inquisitively about their new campground before the sun disappeared behind the mountains, the police discovered that the area was not totally without human life. Sam Livingstone, who became the first farmer in the district, was squatting on the west side of the Elbow; and in the trees beside the river was a small buffalo-skin tent occupied by Missionary Father Joseph Doucet, not long out from France and attempting to bring the Christian religion to the Blackfoot tribes.

And to fire the curiosity of inquiring minds were other discoveries: the ashes of many campfires, some human bones picked free of flesh by coyotes, and most intriguing of all, the rotted logs of what could have been a human habitation.

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