This Week in History


The Cattle King of the West

For the week of Monday June 30, 2008

On July 16, 1856 Patrick Burns was born.  Growing up on a farm near Kirkfield, Ontario Patrick could never have imagined that one day he would be called the ‘cattle king of the West’.

Patrick Burns
© Glenbow Archives NA-3965-61
From Ontario he decided to move to Manitoba to obtain his own homestead. He worked six months to finance the trip but discovered that his employer could not pay him except with two oxen whose worth was not enough to pay the expenses.  Patrick made the best of the situation, slaughtering the oxen and selling the meat. This was his first cattle transaction and already he showed his ability as a trader by making more from it than he would have by selling the animals whole or receiving his earned wages.

In 1878 Burns travelled to Winnipeg and he filed for a homestead nearby. His key to success was not wasting anything, including resources and time. When other homesteaders relaxed during the winter Patrick found work. He used the money earned to buy oxen and the following winter he used the oxen to make more money. He saw more opportunities in dealing cattle and soon he was buying cattle and selling it for profit.

Patrick Burns' cattle herd grazing in Alberta
© Glenbow Archives NA-301-1
In 1886 Patrick’s growing business bloomed with the beginning of major railroad construction. By then he was known as a cattle dealer, and railroad companies needed a man like him to provide beef for the hardworking construction crews.  Patrick took the contract and soon, as his capital and reputation grew, more contracts followed.

On top of existing engagements, he took contracts to provide beef for the Blood Reserves and, in 1898, undertook the difficult task of transporting cattle north for the gold miners at Dawson City, Yukon.

As his business grew, he built abattoirs and began dealing in pigs and sheep, expanding into dairy, poultry, fruits and vegetables. By 1902, he was also known as a rancher, having bought the famous Bow Valley ranch in Alberta, as well as many others. From a simple farm boy, Patrick worked his way up to become a millionaire. In 1912 he was one of the four people who sponsored the first Calgary Stampede and, in 1931, he was appointed to the Senate of Canada.

For his role in driving the Canadian economy, in 1960, Patrick Burns was designated a National Historic Person.

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