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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.