Table of contents

Note to readers
The health and safety of visitors, employees and all Canadians are of the utmost importance. Parks Canada is following the advice and guidance of public health experts to limit the spread of COVID 19 while allowing Canadians to experience Canada’s natural and cultural heritage.

Parks Canada acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic may have unforeseeable impacts on the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site of Canada Management Plan. Parks Canada will inform Indigenous partners, stakeholders and the public of any such impacts through its annual implementation update on the implementation of this plan.

1.0 Introduction

Parks Canada manages one of the finest and most extensive systems of protected natural and historic places in the world. The Agency’s mandate is to protect and present these places for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. Future-oriented, strategic management of each national park, national marine conservation area, heritage canal and those national historic sites administered by Parks Canada supports the Agency’s vision:

“Canada’s treasured natural and historic places will be a living legacy, connecting hearts and minds to a stronger, deeper understanding of the very essence of Canada. ”

The Parks Canada Agency Act requires Parks Canada to prepare a management plan for national historic sites administered by the Agency. The Bar U Ranch National Historic Site of Canada Management Plan, once approved by the Chief Executive Officer of Parks Canada, ensures Parks Canada’s accountability to Canadians, outlining how historic site management will achieve measurable results in support of the Agency’s mandate.

Indigenous peoples, stakeholders, partners and the Canadian public were involved in the preparation of the management plan, helping to shape the future direction of the national historic site. The plan sets clear, strategic direction for the management and operation of Bar U Ranch National Historic Site by articulating a vision, key strategies and objectives. Parks Canada will report annually on progress toward achieving the plan objectives and will review the plan every ten years or sooner if required.

This plan is not an end in and of itself. Parks Canada will maintain an open dialogue on the implementation of the management plan, to ensure that it remains relevant and meaningful. The plan will serve as the focus for ongoing engagement on the management of Bar U Ranch National Historic Site in years to come.

2.0 Significance of Bar U Ranch National Historic Site

The Bar U Ranch was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1989 in recognition of its important role in the ranching industry in Canada. Parks Canada worked with Friends of the Bar U Historic Ranch Association (Friends of the Bar U), a volunteer organization, to establish Bar U Ranch as a national historic site. Bar U Ranch NHS is the only Parks Canada heritage place that commemorates the history of ranching in Canada. The site was officially opened to the public on July 1, 1995.

Established in 1882 by eastern Canadian entrepreneurs and investors, the Bar U Ranch became one of a small group of very large corporate ranches in western Canada. At its height, the Bar U Ranch spanned nearly seven townships of deeded and leased land, totalling 63,184 hectares (157,960 acres). Indigenous people have used the area for thousands of years and have played a direct role in the history of the ranch since the early 1900s; providing skilled labour to many ranches in the region and enjoying personal relationships with many of the ranch families. For most of its history, its size as well as the knowledge and connections of its owners and managers, enabled the Bar U Ranch to establish strategic relationships within the shifting economic market that ensured the success of the ranch. Today, the majority of former Bar U Ranch leases are still in use by neighbouring ranchers.

Significant ecosystem components underlie the Bar U Ranch and include tame pastures, cultivated fields, native grassland remnants and riparian zones. Other significant natural features include habitat for native fish and wildlife populations. The ranch’s headquarters is in the sheltered bottom of the Pekisko Creek valley, a tributary of the Highwood River. The valley is a wide floodplain with a series of terraces. Cottonwood stands line the edge of the creek. Pekisko Creek is recognized as an important fish spawning and rearing tributary to the Highwood and Bow Rivers. The riparian corridor along Pekisko Creek within the Bar U has been set aside to protect the cottonwoods and the aquatic habitat. Beyond the river valley, the rolling uplands have cultivated grasses, grains, hay crops and an area of largely-altered native fescue grassland. The area contributes to the habitat requirements of a variety of fish and wildlife species including some species at risk. Aquatic and riparian habitats and native grassland remnants are the most significant natural features with respect to wildlife habitat.

3.0 Planning context

The Bar U Ranch NHS is located along Cowboy Trail (Highway 22, approximately 100 kilometres southwest of Calgary in the heart of Alberta’s foothills within Foothills County (Map 1 and 2). Bar U Ranch NHS is a part of the Waterton Lakes Field Unit. Seasonal staff interpret the site to visitors from mid-May to the end of September. The site is the main attraction in the local area, enjoying strong community support from Friends of the Bar U and volunteers.

Today, the site consists of 148.43 hectares (367 acres) of land and includes the original headquarters of the Bar U Ranch, representative fields and outbuildings and a portion of the Pekisko Creek (Map 3). Thirty Classified Federal Heritage Buildings are included within the boundaries of the NHS. Resources of other heritage value include eight buildings, a small number of known pre-contact Indigenous archaeological sites and a system of corrals, fences, gates and ranching and farming equipment. Federal Infrastructure Investment has contributed to the restoration of three classified heritage buildings; the Work Horse Barn restoration is scheduled for completion in 2021.

Over the past five years, the trend for visitation at the site has been increasing with an average of 20,000 visitors per year. The current visitor offer at the Bar U Ranch is multi-faceted, with personal interpretation at the site taking many forms. These include the living ranch program, which has benefited from an increased livestock presence that includes Percheron horses, saddle horses, cattle, chickens, turkeys and pigs. The site is organized as a set of interpretive nodes where talks, demonstrations and activities take place. Access to the site is either on foot, or on a horse-drawn wagon. A variety of special events are offered through the summer: Canada Day and the Ranch Rodeo are the most popular, with an average of 1,000 visitors a day. Friends of the Bar U plan and implement the Ranch Rodeo and contribute to the success of many special events. Though known for iconic buildings and characters, the Bar U Ranch’s rangeland and riparian zones are important natural elements of the site. Visitors are educated and inspired through displays, exhibits and buildings plus the stunning landscape and natural features that tell their own story.

The Friends of the Bar U is an essential partner and works closely with Parks Canada to preserve, protect and present ranching heritage, increase public awareness, understanding, enjoyment of and engagement with the Bar U Ranch NHS. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Parks Canada and Friends of the Bar U enables the Friends of the Bar U to contribute to visitor experience, heritage presentation, collection management and care and livestock management. They also operate the gift shop in the Visitor Centre and support Parks Canada with the site’s volunteer program.

The Bar U Ranch NHS acknowledges it is located within the traditional territory of Treaty 7 Nations. Initiatives are underway to enhance recent efforts to respectfully engage with Indigenous partners. The Bar U Ranch NHS remains committed to continued engagement to ensure Indigenous histories, cultures and values are shared respectfully, and told authentically, by Indigenous peoples.

This management plan builds on the successes and lessons learned from the 1995 and 2005 Management Plans. Previous plans provided direction for heritage presentation, heritage protection, visitor services and facilities, outreach, environmental stewardship, public involvement and partnerships and overall operations of the site.

The key planning considerations and critical management priorities identified for the 10-year planning period include:

Long-term sustainability of structures:
The combination of program administration, technical expertise and the volume of historic buildings – 38 in total – pose a challenge for site management. An ongoing effort between Parks Canada, Indigenous Affairs and Cultural Heritage (IACH) and the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO) is needed to build long-term sustainability of these structures.
Storage and management of artefacts and objects:
Little distinction exists between props and artefacts/objects and how staff and visitors can interact with them. Some objects can be considered pest attractants or potentially dangerous for other reasons and may put staff, visitors and other cultural resources at risk. Many objects were destroyed in the 2013 flood, a 1-in-100-year event; these objects need to be formally de-accessioned/removed from the collection database. Parks Canada objects are currently stored in the foaling barn while Friends of the Bar U Ranch artefacts/objects are stored in a separate storage unit onsite.
Adaptation to climate change:
These include fire, wind and flooding. Pekisko Creek has flooded several times since the Bar U Ranch became a Parks Canada site. These flooding events have significantly impacted the cultural resources, natural resources, visitor experience and business continuity of the Bar U Ranch.
Indigenous relations:
Opportunities to incorporate Indigenous initiatives at the site are being explored with Indigenous peoples who have traditional connections with this place. Historically, relationships have focused on the Siksika and Stoney Nakoda from the Treaty 7 groups.
Impacts to the landscape including viewscapes:
Development projects by neighbouring properties can potentially threaten and negatively impact the views, natural landscape, biodiversity and species at risk of the Bar U Ranch.

Map 1: Regional setting

Map 1: Regional setting

Map 1: Regional setting - Text version

A road map of southwestern Alberta, showing the location of Bar U Ranch National Historic Site. The Plan Your Visit section has further travel information.

Map 2: Bar U Ranch National Historic Site

Map 2: Bar U Ranch National Historic Site

Map 2: Bar U Ranch National Historic Site - Text version

A satellite view of Bar U Ranch National Historic site, showing the boundaries of the site’s historic core as well as the site overall. The Site Map has more details on the Bar U Ranch’s historic core.

Map 3: Bar U Ranch NHS historic core

 Map 3: Bar U Ranch NHS historic core

Map 3: Bar U Ranch NHS historic core - Text version

A detailed map of Bar U Ranch’s historic core, showing visitors where each of the site’s buildings are located.

4.0 Vision

The vision presents the desired state of Bar U Ranch in 15-20 years.

Bar U Ranch National Historic Site is an iconic landmark that continues to connect local, regional and national audiences to the site’s past, present and future. The site educates and inspires visitors by presenting the people, land and culture of the ranching industry in Canada. A range of visitors includes Indigenous peoples, youth and new Canadians, who actively engage with the site through new programs and updated exhibits and technology. The sights, sounds and smells of the living ranch have evolved and include more ways for the public to interact with livestock and experience ranch activities through events such as antique farm-equipment demonstrations, collaboration with artists, and spotlighting the rich local talent of the area. Trails through riparian forest and rangeland corridors provide opportunities for visitors to experience the vibrant cultural and natural history outside our historic core. Our interpretive offer includes Indigenous history and perspectives on the area and opportunities for Indigenous people to share their stories and connections to the land and site. New and revitalized partnerships with Friends of the Bar U Ranch, Indigenous communities and other community partners help foster learning about ranching. The Bar U is a steward of the land, animals, historic structures and cultural resources in its care, preserving these for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

5.0 Key strategies

Three key strategies frame the management direction for the Bar U Ranch NHS for the next ten years. The strategies and corresponding objectives and targets focus on achieving the vision for the ranch through an integrated approach to site management. Updates on how the plan is being implemented will be provided to engage Indigenous people, key stakeholders and Canadians.

Key Strategy 1:

Protection and maintenance of cultural and natural resources

This strategy focuses on the preservation and ongoing improvement of the Bar U Ranch’s cultural and natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations. Cultural and natural resources include the ranch’s buildings, artefacts, archaeology sites, viewscapes, cottonwood riparian forest along Pekisko Creek and rangeland. It also includes the historical resources such as documents, stories and intergenerational knowledge that give meaning to these spaces. Protecting the cultural and natural resources from deterioration and dangers such as extreme weather events like fire and flood is a priority, particularly given that both events will increase in frequency under continued climate change.

The conservation and maintenance of historic structures and improvement of built assets is a priority for the site. A built asset and heritage building conservation strategy needs to be developed for all structures on the ranch contributing to long-term sustainability of historic structures and assets. Fire management and flood mitigation plans will help with emergency preparedness and decrease the likelihood of fire or floods impacting buildings and rangeland on the site. Fire management and flood mitigation plans will be developed within four years of management plan approval.

The Bar U would benefit from a systematic inventory of archival records, an acquisition history of objects and overall inventory reconciliation. Ongoing review of relevant historical literature and new research will ensure that the Bar U is able to present a range of perspectives on the history of ranching and its context. To begin this work, a historical research plan will be developed within two years of this management plan’s approval. To better understand the ongoing history of the Bar U Ranch and the story of ranching, interviews with those that experienced the life of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s will be collected.

Objective 1.1:

The condition of the thirty classified structures and built assets at the Bar U Ranch improves as Parks Canada strategically invests in these assets.


  • Within five years, the condition of the building envelopes in the historic core are maintained in ‘fair’ condition by way of routine maintenance.
  • The condition of the built assets at the Bar U Ranch are maintained at a ‘fair’ rating in the next State of Site Assessment.

Objective 1.2:

Knowledge and condition of the cultural resources and archival records related to the Bar U Ranch improves.


  • By 2025, inventory of archival records and information improves from 2019 levels.
  • In the next State of Site Assessment, the indicators for archeological sites and archaeological objects under the Cultural Resources theme remain ‘fair’.
  • Within 10 years, 75% of artefacts and objects maintain their heritage value as a result of improved storage.

Objective 1.3:

Bar U Ranch has increased resiliency in responding to emergency situations, including those related to increased impacts of climate change.


  • By 2025, the Bar U Ranch will incorporate wildfire risk reduction principles such as vegetation management into its emergency response plan.
  • Within 10 years, the Bar U Ranch will plant willows and cottonwoods in strategic locations along Pekisko Creek to minimize erosion and ensure greater bank stability.

Objective 1.4:

Knowledge and understanding of the natural resources of the site improves, supporting better stewardship of the ranch.


  • By 2025, an ecological inventory assessment of the site will be completed.

Key Strategy 2:

Enrich visitor experience

This strategy focuses on innovative and meaningful visitor experiences, and increasing awareness of Bar U Ranch NHS and the ranching history across Canada. Enriching and interactive visitor programs will be promoted and delivered to a range of visitors leading to increased visitation and revenue. Increased exposure for the Bar U Ranch NHS will raise awareness of the site and its surrounding area as a tourism destination. Outreach and promotional activities will connect visitors to the site’s programs and the significance of the ranch as a national historic site. People will visit the site more frequently, stay longer and include the Bar U Ranch in their travel itineraries, especially en-route to other destinations in southern Alberta and southeastern British Columbia. For example, the site will explore options for overnight accommodation during the next three years, with the possibility of a working offer in the next 5-10 years.

The site will continue to be a safe and animated living ranch complete with heavy horses, saddle horses, cattle and other traditional livestock. An integrated trail system and bridge will create better flow between the cultural and natural elements of the site. Archaeological specimens and historical objects related to the Bar U Ranch will be assessed, evaluated and respectfully used to enhance visitor opportunities and further contribute to the public’s appreciation and understanding of the site. Indigenous perspectives and stories of the history of the area will be included as part of the Bar U Ranch’s visitor experience offer.

Strategic planning focused on promotion, outreach and connecting visitors to the site in creative ways will be essential to achieving the objectives set out in this strategy. This includes the development of visitor experience and outreach strategies and may also include interpretation research, target-market analysis and visitor-use management planning. The strategy rests on the site’s unique features, engagement with partners including Indigenous peoples, research into the desires and interests of target markets, historical and archaeological research and innovative methods of site interpretation or education. A visitor experience strategy will be developed within two years of management plan approval and implemented over the life of this plan.

Objective 2.1:

Awareness and understanding of the Bar U Ranch NHS increases locally and nationally.


  • By 2025, 90% of visitors to the Bar U Ranch leave with a deeper appreciation of the role the ranching industry has played in the history of Canada.
  • Within 10 years, virtual reach increases by 10%, through social media and the website from 2019 levels.
  • By 2030, media interest and publications highlighting the Bar U Ranch NHS increases by 10%.

Objective 2.2:

Visitation at the Bar U Ranch increases as a result of the quality and diversity of visitor experience opportunities.


  • By 2025, the number of events and programs the site offers increases by 5% from 2019 levels.
  • Within 10 years, repeat visitation to the Bar U Ranch increases by 10% from 2019 levels. By 2025, 80% of visitors are satisfied by the general sense of arrival at the Bar U Ranch.

Objective 2.3:

More visitors are connected to the natural elements of the ranch.


  • By 2025, 80% of visitors have a better understanding of the natural elements of the site.
  • Within 10 years, 2% of visitors use the trail system to connect to the natural elements of the Bar U Ranch.

Key Strategy 3:

Collaborating to protect, present and promote the Bar U NHS

This strategy focuses on the important partnerships and key relationships that enhance experiences offered at the ranch and in the region. To achieve this, the Bar U Ranch will deepen existing relationships and develop new relationships locally and regionally. The Friends of the Bar U will continue to be a major partner at the Bar U Ranch working with Parks Canada to present the significance of the ranch to Canadians.

These collaborative relationships will help increase the number and type of programs and events hosted at the ranch ensuring more comprehensive and cohesive storytelling of ranching in the region. Existing and new relationships will lead to an increase in the number of volunteers at the ranch, offering opportunities for historic and archeological research and enhancing visitor experiences. Attention will also focus on collaborating with tourism organizations in southern Alberta to cross-promote the ranch with other tourist destination in Southern Alberta.

Strengthening relationships with local First Nations is a priority for the Bar U Ranch. Indigenous presence and connection to the ranch will increase through the sharing of stories, and inclusion of their perspectives in the overall site presentation and management. The Bar U Ranch will commit to exploring partnerships with local First Nations and encouraging access to the site for Indigenous peoples with traditional connections to the site.

Agreements between the Bar U Ranch NHS and commercial businesses (including leases, rights-of-way, licences-of-occupation and others) will be reviewed and updated when their terms dictate review or renewal.

Objective 3.1:

Existing partnerships are enhanced.


  • By 2025, at least one commercial tour operator adds Bar U National Historic Site to its itinerary.
  • The number of volunteers with the Friends of the Bar U Ranch increases by 5% from 2019 levels by 2030.

Objective 3.2:

Relationship-building with Indigenous groups who have traditional ties to the area are strengthened through agreements supporting collaborative work.


  • By 2025, the number of Indigenous stories and perspectives in interpretive programs and products related to the Bar U Ranch NHS increases from the 2019 service offer.
  • Through programs such as Open Doors, the number of Indigenous people coming to the Bar U Ranch increases from 2019 levels.
  • Within 10 years, 90% of visitors feel they have a better understanding of Indigenous culture and history related to the area after their visit.

Objective 3.3:

The number of new partnerships at the Bar U Ranch increases, resulting in new ways of presenting the Bar U Ranch and the ranching industry.


  • Within five years, the number of new events and programs hosted in collaboration with other organizations increases from 2019 levels.
  • By 2030, the number and quality of partnering and outreach initiatives for the site increases from 2019 levels.

6.0 Summary of strategic environmental assessment

The purpose of a strategic environmental assessment is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals, to support environmentally-sound decision making. In accordance with The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (2010), a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) was conducted on the Bar U Ranch NHS management plan. The scope was limited to the geographic boundaries of the National Historic Site and the time frame was 10 years, to match the management planning cycle.

Many positive effects will occur as a result of the implementation of the plan, for example improvements to the cultural resources that support the commemorative integrity of the site. The biggest positive effects of this plan will be the creation and enhancement of visitor experiences, resulting in an increased visitor appreciation of the role ranching has played in the history of Canada. Our collective knowledge and understanding of the natural resources of the Bar U Ranch NHS will be improved through the ecological inventory of the site. The management plan will help connect Canadians with nature and improve their appreciation of sustainable food production and their connection with nature, thereby contributing to the implementation of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.

Strategies, objectives and targets identified in the management plan that could potentially result in negative environmental effects include undertakings to support improvements to the cultural, historic and built assets. However, these effects can be minimized by adhering to the appropriate standards and guidelines, and collaborating with others within the PCA such as Indigenous Affairs and Cultural Heritage and the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office. Operations at the site are required to mitigate impacts on climate according to Greening Government requirements in support of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. Potential effects to species at risk will be addressed through policy instruments (Species at Risk Act), project level impact assessment and the Multi-species Action Plan for Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada and Bar U Ranch National Historic Site of Canada.

Indigenous partners, stakeholders and the public will be consulted on the draft management plan, including a summary of the draft strategic environmental assessment. Feedback will be considered and incorporated into the strategic environmental assessment and management plan as appropriate.

There are no important negative environmental effects anticipated from the implementation of the management plan. Individual projects at the site will be evaluated separately under the Impact Assessment Act, or successor legislation, as necessary.