This Week in History


Bar U Ranch

For the Week of Monday, November 13, 2017

On November 17, 1989, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recommended the Bar U Ranch for designation as a national historic site because of the important role it played in the history of ranching in western Canada.

Bar U Ranch National Historic Site of Canada
© Parks Canada

In 1882, the wealthy Allan family of Montréal established the North-West Cattle Company, later known as the Bar U Ranch. Located on the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains, abundant bunchgrass and warm Chinook winds created an ideal environment for ranching. This attracted several large ranching operations that dominated the early beef cattle industry in western Canada.

The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 linked the western grasslands with ports in eastern Canada and ships to Britain, where demand for meat was growing. For more than 20 years, live cattle exports were an important trade staple for Canada. Bar U made a significant contribution. By 1890, the ranch ran 10,000 head of cattle on more than 150,000 acres of rangeland.

In 1902, George Lane, a former Bar U foreman, purchased the ranch. Lane experimented with irrigation and cultivated various feed crops. He also established a renowned breeding facility for Percheron horses, used by homesteaders to plough fields at a time of rapid expansion in western Canadian wheat production. After Lane’s death in 1925, the Dominion Bank foreclosed on the heavily mortgaged ranch.

Cattle magnate Patrick Burns bought Bar U in 1927. He instituted cost-saving measures and improved herd quality during the Great Depression. After his death in 1937, his management team took over. The Second World War created both an overwhelming demand for beef and labour shortages, as ranch hands enlisted in the armed forces. In their place, Bar U employed members of the Iyarhe Nakoda, Iyethkabi, or Stoney Nakoda First Nation, who played a critical role in keeping the ranch operational. Sold in 1950 to J. Allen Baker, there were various owners until 1991, when Parks Canada purchased Bar U, opening it to visitors in 1995.

The Bar U Ranch is a designated national historic site, Patrick Burns is a national historic person, and the Ranching Industry is a national historic event. To learn more, read It's Good To Be Alberta Bound and The Cattle King of the West in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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