The introduction of ranching to southern Alberta

Waldron, AB (Photo by Kyle Marquardt,

Waldron, AB (Photo by Kyle Marquardt,

The first small herd of cattle arrived in what is now Southern Alberta in 1873, when missionary John McDougal and his brother David drove a small herd of 11 cows and a bull from Fort Edmonton to Morleyville, on the Bow river west of present-day Calgary. A year later,  the North-West Mounted Police arrived from Manitoba with close to 240 head of cattle and oxen. The following year, trader John Shaw brought close to 460 heads of cattle to Morleyville from the Kootenay up the foothills.

In the years that followed, more cattle were introduced into southern Alberta. Many heads were purchased by North-West Mounted policemen who planned to start ranching after they had served their three-year terms.

Then in 1877, Treaty No. 7 was signed between Queen Victoria and several Blackfoot tribes. This further opened up southern Alberta for agriculture.

But by 1879 the disappearance of the buffalo left the Blackfoot in conditions of starvation. The Government of Canada needed to buy beef to feed them. With the promise of cheap (if not free) grass and high beef prices, a number of North American and British business owners invested in ranches in western Canada.

Across North America, similar devastation was happening. Along with the disappearance of the buffalo, other wildlife populations across western North America were also being decimated. Carnivores that also populated the Great Plains of America were largely dependent upon the buffalo and they were disappearing from the great plains of America at a rapid rate as well.

Wilderness on the great plains of North America was effectively near its end. The predator-prey relationships in an area nearly three times the size of the African Serengeti came to an abrupt end, except for a few special areas where fate made the terrain rugged enough to spare the grasslands from the cultivator.

The history of the Great Plains >

First Nations history >

Ranching and conservation in southern Alberta in the 1900s >

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Atlantic puffins (Photo by Bill Caulfield-Browne)