A Walk Through History
You’ve come here to the east side of Fish Creek Provincial Park via Macleod Trail, or perhaps by taking Bow Bottom Trail further east. Maybe you’ve come by car or bike, or perhaps you’re taking an after-dinner walk. You may have heard of the fine dining establishment in the area: the Bow Valley Ranche. You may have even stopped at the newly renovated Annie’s Bakery Cafe for a coffee and a muffin before wandering through the Native Gardens, but have you ever thought about the story of the historic Fish Creek valley?
Fish Creek Provincial Park begins at the Tsuu T’ina Nation in the west and extends 20 km east to the Bow River. Carved from a glacier, the area was home at various times to First Nations hunters, trappers, farmers, a wool mill, ranchers, 4 buffalo jumps, and 80 University of Calgary archaeological digs.
The earliest known visitor to the area was the explorer and surveyor David Thompson who visited sometime during the period of 1789-1811. Thompson was followed by a number of fur traders and missionaries, but for over one hundred years no one established a permanent residence. This changed in the 1870s when John Glenn, a trapper and farmer, cleared nine acres next to the confluence of Fish Creek and the Bow River. Glenn built a log house and barns, and devised an irrigation system to grow crops (particularly potatoes) in the glacial silt of the riverbanks. By 1879, the farm was thriving and Glenn was enjoying a comfortable lifestyle.
In 1877, the Blackfoot, Sarcee, and Stony Tribes exchanged their lands in the Bow Valley for cash and land reserves. According to the terms of the treaty they signed, Treaty 7, the Canadian government was to set up “instructional farms” to teach them how to farm this land. Eventually, the government purchased John Glenn’s homestead for $350 to pursue this undertaking, and a superintendent was hired as an instructor. However, within a few years the program was shut down and the property was again put up for sale.
In 1883 brothers William and John Roper Hull were driving 1200 head of horses from Kamloops to Calgary under contract with the North West Mounted Police. They liked the looks of the Fish Creek area and decided to purchase the 4,000 acre “Government Supply Farm” for $30,000. The Hulls secured a contract with the Canadian Pacific Railway as the sole source of beef for the British Columbia railway gangs. Eventually the Hulls would build the Calgary Brewing and Malting Company (the precursor to Molsons Breweries), Calgary’s first opera house and the Calgary Grain Exchange.
William Roper Hull, a sociable and influential businessman, decided to build “the finest country home in the territories” in a protected area beneath the north escarpment of the Fish Creek valley. He hired Calgary architect James Llewellyn Wilson who designed a Gothic Revival structure featuring a gabled roof, twin brick chimneys, and dormer windows. A
Gregarious host, Hull presided over tennis matches and many other gatherings of prominent politicians, business people, ranchers, and farmers in his home.
By the early 20th century, land use in southern Alberta was shifting from farming to ranching, and in 1902 the Hull land was purchased by Calgary meat packer and rancher Patrick Burns. Burns acquired some 20,000 acres of land in the area, bordered on the north by what is now Stampede Park. His holdings extended south to 146 Avenue, and stretched west to Macleod Trail. This parcel was only a small part of Burns’ total ranching operation of 450,000 acres!
Pat Burns was a selfless innovator, helping other ranchers improve cattle bloodlines. He also introduced better winterfeeding methods and modern feedlot techniques. Burns was also a conservationist and he instructed his foreman to protect the ranch’s groves of aspen and poplar from cattle. He also had his workers plant 2,000 poplar trees along Macleod Trail adjacent to the Bow Valley Ranche. Pat Burns was one of the “Big Four” who helped finance the first Calgary Stampede.
In the early 1970s, the Alberta Government purchased some 1,400 acres of land in the Bow River and Fish Creek Valleys, including the Bow Valley Ranche site. On June 29, 1975, the Honorable Peter Lougheed dedicated Fish Creek Provincial Park as “a park for all people.”
For a period of time the Ranche House became the Fish Creek Park warden’s residence time, but was eventually boarded up and sat empty for many years. By 1994, the building was slated for demolition. Local residents Mitzie and Larry Wasyliw, who frequently walked in Fish Creek park, decided to save the house by establishing the Ranche at Fish Creek Restoration Society. Through donations, the Ranche House was saved and restored to its former glory. In addition, the foreman’s house was refurbished and a native species garden was established.
In 2000, the Ranche House Restaurant and Annie’s Bakery opened to the public, and remain popular destinations today. The Ranche at Fish Creek Restoration Society also created the Artisan Gardens and Branded Patio, which opened to the public in September 2013. This one-of-a-kind “art gallery in nature” offers visitors a glimpse of the richness of the valley. Be sure to see some of Pat Burns’ original brands crafted in mosaic stepping stones. Annie’s Bakery has been renovated and it’s operation extended to include the Meadow Mews Pavilion, an event tent accommodating outdoor celebrations.
Although we no longer hunt, trap, or live in the Fish Creek valley, the park and its historic buildings serve to honour the past and preserve our heritage. The multitude of park paths, the native gardens, Annie’s Bakery, and the Ranche House restaurant all offer visitors the unique opportunity to step out of the city and sample a way of life from long ago.