Situated in between the Rocky Mountains and the rolling hills, one can find remnants of how early settlers in the west left a significant impact on Canadian history. The Bar U Ranch National Historic Site is a site that has the most eye opening perspective on how the ?west once was?. Unlike Heritage Park in Calgary that has more of a touristy atmosphere with the employees dressed up, stores, bakeries, and a mini amusement park, Bar U Ranch has more of a realistic ranch atmosphere. The buildings haven't really been moved around from their original standings and all the history of this particular ranch happened right at this site. When visiting the ranch you can hear and see all the reasons why Bar U Ranch was one of the foremost ranches in western Canadian.
In the west, Bar U Ranch is one of the lasting corporate large ranches in Canadian history. It is also one of the first large ranches in the west with a rich history. No longer the corporate ranch that it once was, Bar U now commemorates an important part of Canadian history. Ranching was a major industry in the west that provided numerous families the means to live in the area. Bar U Ranch was not just one ranch but was made up of a small group of large corporate ranches. These ranches were spread out throughout western Canada that include Cochrane, the Quorn, the Oxley and the Walrond.
Bar U Ranch's operations mainly dealt with cattle and horses. It became the predominant grounds for training cattlemen. The cattle of Bar U were the first cattle that were sold and shipped to Great Britain. The main personalities of the ranch that led the way for having the ranch become a leader in ranching were Fred Stimson, George Lane and Patrick Burns.
In 1881 through to 1902 Fred Stimson was the one who ran the show at the ranch while it was an open range ranch. At that time the government was offering 21 year leases on a maximum of 100,000 acres of land. When Fred heard of this, he traveled from Quebec with the wealthy Allan family of Montreal. They formed the North West Cattle Company and were granted 2 leases of 147,000 acres. In 1882, Fred traveled to the states and bought 3,000 cattle, purebred bulls and saddle horses. When the Canadian Pacific Railway expanded to Calgary, the ranch made its first sale when the CPR bought 1,000 steers for $75 each. The government also purchased cattle to supply beef to the Native people and the North West Mounted Police. Throughout the era, more infrastructures were added to the site such as the corrals and fences. Initially there were only a few buildings at the site.
Fred also was very intrigued by the Natives and their way of life. He always invited them to stay at Bar U when traveling through the area and took an interest in learning the Blackfoot language. He even collected Native artwork, bead-work and various clothing and was a major advocate for Native Rights.
When George Lane and his partners took over the ranch in 1902, the ranch became more internationally recognized. The ranch initially only breeded purebred cattle but in the early 1900's it began to breed purebred Percheron horses. When we visited the black smith, Bruce, he shared stories of how Bar U Ranch was known for their Percheron horses across the globe.
As the ranch and its business empire expanded, new facilities were built across the 150,000 plus acres including new barns and facilities for the Percheron horses. George Lane was known for his ambition and organized the last and largest round up in Canada. He organized over 100 men, 500 saddle horse, 60,000 cattle 15 wagons all spread over 10,000 square miles of the open range. When the North West Rebellion was blazing through the prairies led by Louis Riel, Fred Stimson and George Lane formed the ?Stimson Rangers?. The rangers were a group of mounted troops who volunteered to patrol the foothills and protect the settlers and ranchers in the vast area. George Lane eventually purchased the assets of the North West Cattle Company and Fred Stimson returned to Montreal.
George Lane is most notably known as one of the ?Big 4? who underwrote the first Calgary Stampede as well. Along with 3 others including Patrick Burns, the four men agreed to finance the Guy Weadick's production of a ?Frontier Celebration and World Championship cowboy Contest? which is now known as the infamous Calgary Stampede.
The ranch expanded its operations with several ranches building meat packing factories and flour mills as well. It continued to expand into the late 1900's when Patrick Burns came into ownership. It became a multi-ranch cattle operation and although the 1900's brought about the depression, Patrick Burns pummeled through the times cutting back on costs and only making investments in long term improvements. During World War 2, a lot of grain was stored in the barns and other buildings adapted to store grain. The breeding of Percheron horses were scaled down and Bar U ranch slowly lost its place in being the largest ranches in Canada when the executors of the estate began to sell off land to local ranches.
With that said, as many other ranches that began operations in the 1880's went out of business, Bar U Ranch has remained one of the only if not the only ranch that has survived to this day. On one of the wagon rides we took to the end of the ranch, the driver told stories of the former slave John Ware and the outlaw The Sundance Kid.
John Ware, was an African American that was born in the Carolinas down in the United States. He was born into slavery but made a name for himself through his deeds. He had incredible skills in the saddle and being straight forward. He quickly earned the respect of his fellow cattlemen. The Native Americans took a liking to John as well. They nick named him ?bad black white man? or ?Matory Sex Apee Quin? because of his enormous strength and often wondered if he had a connection to the spiritual world.
When Fred Stimson met Tom Lynch, a veteran cattle drover, they headed down to Idaho where cattle prices were not as high. After business was concluded Tom Lynch was left behind to find a trail outfit to herd the cattle across the 700 miles to Bar U Ranch. Just up from Texas, is where he hired Bill Moodie and John Ware. Initially John Ware received a crappy horse and a shoddy saddle with low fulfilling jobs. After approaching Tom Lynch and being up front with him, he earned Tom's respect and received a bronc to ride. For 2 years, John Ware worked at the ranch and eventually moved to a spot along the Red Deer River where he was accidentally killed by his horse when it fell on him after the horse tripped.
The Bar U ranch is filled with history and tales of Natives, Cowboys, princesses and outlaws amongst many other stories! There are about 20 plus buildings in their original state to walk through and visit with many having interpretive signs that explain even more of the ranch's history in detail. Allow yourself at least 3 hours to slowly go through the buildings and take in the last standing, largest historic ranch in the Canadian west.
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