A Visit to the Bar U Ranch – a National Historic Site.

Bar U

I had the treat of spending a few hours over the past long-weekend visiting the Bar U Ranch which is not far from High River, Alberta. My daughter, Kristen, and I had a great time listening to the Parks Canada guides, wending our way through the 100-year-old buildings and simply enjoying a pleasant day of mid-20-degree temperatures under a gorgeous blue prairie sky.

Bar U Ranch Entrance

The Bar U Ranch highlights a work culture celebrated nowhere else in Canada – cattle ranching and the changing role of the cowboy over time. The seven decades of history represented at the Bar U follows the progression of ranching from the time of the open range, through the early days of fencing in the prairie and on into the age of mechanization.

George Lane fights off wolves

The above photo depicts George Lane, a bigger than life character, fighting off wolves while working on the Bar U – a ranch he purchased in 1902. Lane is best remembered as one of the “Big Four” – ranchers who underwrote the first Calgary Stampede in 1912. Lane was also known for his world-renowned Percheron horses. In October of 1909, Bar U Percherons won almost every event they entered in the Seattle World’s Fair.

Famous Bar U Percherons

Bar U horses

The Bar U sits square in a space and time when Alberta becoming part of Canada was not a done deal. With the long-promised completion of national railroad spanning the breadth of our huge country, the incentives provided by the surveying and parceling out of prairie land and a good deal of PR, southern Alberta was settled and the United States was kept from land grabbing a huge swath of the Canadian prairie.

The life of a cowboy

The above quote caught my eye. In and out of the saddle for sixteen hour days, sleeping rough for untold nights with nothing but a bedroll to keep out the elements – not an easy life.

At its largest, the Bar U covered almost 158,000 acres. Over 10,000 cattle and 800 plus horses grazed on land controlled by the Bar U.

I was interested to visit this national historic site for a couple of reasons. Canada 150 Celebrations mean all our national parks are free of charge. Always a nice perk. I have become interested in the history of this area since my daughter and her family relocated here last year. Over the summer, I listened to a CBC podcast entitled: Heroes, Hustlers and Horsemen – history like you haven’t heard it before. These are whiskey-soaked, rough and tumble biographies about larger than life figures who shaped southern Alberta in the tumultuous late 1800s.

John Ware stamp

The last podcast in the series covered the life of John Ware, a former American slave who became a legendary cowboy and rancher in southern Alberta. His story was quite fascinating and mentions his time at the Bar U. In 1882, Tom Lynch, Bar U Ranch veteran cattle drover, hired on a few hands from Texas to help bring a large herd of cattle seven hundred miles up from Montana to Southern Alberta. John Ware was one of those Texans. In a rough world, Ware established himself with deeds rather than words. A man of legendary courage and strength, a skilled horseman with a straight forward honesty, he gained the respect of most everyone he met.

Bar U buildingsDo check out the podcast on John Ware and listen to the whole Heroes, Hustlers and Horsemen series.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to this National Historic Site. Canada has so much to offer to citizens and travellers alike. Have you visited any of our National Parks for the Canada 150 Celebrations? There’s still time. Go for it.

8 comments on “A Visit to the Bar U Ranch – a National Historic Site.

  1. evelynralph says:

    Reblogged this on evelynralph and commented:
    I am sure ths kind of history would interest many today. Of course, the time scale does not compare with England, going back ovet 2,000 years for us. But still, history is history, and we are all a part of this world and how it came to be.
    Evelyn

  2. MariHoward says:

    Would love to visit these wonderful places in Canada you describe! We lived in Canada for 4 months in the winter of 1989-1990 (yes, the winter!) but in Waterloo, Ontario, very tame and suburban … managed to visit Toronto a bit, (Museum was a high, and staying with artsy friends there, and the depth of the snow … including being stuck in traffic for ages surrounded by snow on the 401 …) and did Niagara Falls. Otherwise, shopping in Farmers Market and otherwise the Mall! Kids adored Christmas with lots of snow …but wrong time of year and too expensive to do travelling … We were attached to the University, (hence the silly time, depths of winter) and the kids did grade school … all experience and different from Oxford …

    • I do hope you are able to visit Canada again in a season that suits some of the wonderful, wonderful sights and experiences this country has to be proud of – the overwhelming beauty of the West Coast, the open prairie skies, the great lakes and the Canadian shield, the cultural diversity of cities like Toronto and Montreal, the grandeur of our nation’s capital – Ottawa ((I’m heading there tonight!) – the Maritimes – which I have yet to experience. Hard to decide what to focus on.

  3. Roy McCarthy says:

    I love a bit of social history. Good to see that a ‘new’ nation like yours is proud of its roots and wants to teach others.

    • I definitely feel that pride of being Canadian for all that our country has achieved in a relatively short period of time. Since my daughter has relocated to Southern Alberta, I’ve been able to explore a new Canadian regional culture and the historic roots that made this area what it is. Great fun. I’m off to the nation’s capital tonight – Ottawa – to visit my son. Always something exciting to see in Ottawa. It’s all good …

  4. Are your photos all of “real time” views? They are interesting and very good–enjoyed this post a lot.

    • For this post, all the photos except the close up of the John Ware stamp were taken on the day my daughter and I visited the Bar-U. We do have a lot of archived photos of our own and there are posts when I dip into those because I am trying to illustrate a concept rather than describe a real world event. But if I am posting about going somewhere specific, I try to keep that authentic with the photos as well as the story.

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