Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Calgary, Alberta, CanadaSouthern Alberta History

  • Published Wednesday, May 23, 2012
  • Updated on Thursday, May 24, 2012

Since the early 1900’s Calgary and the surrounding area has had active ranches to help support the economy and culture, whether it was cattle ranches and supporting businesses or later on by cultivating crops. This tradition lives on today with active ranches throughout Southern Alberta, and the Calgary Stampede, which is celebrating 100 years in 2012.

Calgary’s Farm and Ranch lifestyle

Southern Alberta is in the northern Great Plains.  Early ranching was big business. Profit depended on the presence of large urban markets, and the availability of extensive processing and transportation systems connecting the product with the consumer. Accordingly, the cattlemen who managed Alberta's ranches, particularly the large operations, were adroit businessmen, equally at home in urban Calgary and on the ranch. Some of Calgary's most prominent citizens, they contributed heavily to the city's civic, economic, and social development.

While living quarters on even the largest ranches were plain by urban standards, the social life was not. Polo tournaments, "fox hunts," horseracing and balls were regular events. The well-known Bar U Ranch near High River, for example, was a routine stop on the itinerary of visiting royalty, official dignitaries and celebrities.

Cattlemen were also leaders in their local communities. They invested their expertise and money in small town businesses and agricultural associations. In addition, they promoted agricultural productivity through area exhibitions, the forerunners to the Calgary Stampede begun in 1912.

Calgary became the urban centre for the centralized facilities, such as stockyards, slaughterhouses, meatpacking and processing plants, and tanneries, which the cattle industry required. The city's first manufacturing enterprises were based on products from ranching. William Roper Hull and Pat Burns, for example, established meat packing and slaughter houses, as well as businesses that shipped and traded livestock. When civic leaders persuaded the CPR to locate its freight yards in Calgary in 1898, the boon to the local economy was immediate. By 1907, it was estimated that the yards were worth over one million dollars annually.

Despite its early prominence in Calgary's economy, the cattle industry declined in importance after 1905 as southern Alberta's growing rural population shifted from raising livestock to cultivating crops. Large increases in wheat production accompanied the settlement boom years prior to 1914. Calgary's economy reflected the transition. The city became the regional headquarters for farm implement dealers, and milling and grain processing plants. By adapting to the changing production of its surroundings, Calgary maintained the metropolitan role required to promote and advance its hinterland.

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