Phase One, October 2019

1. Context

Established in 1882, the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site (Bar U Ranch) became one of a small group of very large corporate ranches in western Canada. At its height, the Bar U Ranch was nearly seven townships of deeded and leased land, totalling 63,184 hectares (157,960 acres).

Indigenous people have played a significant role in the history of the ranch since the early 1900’s; providing skilled labor to many ranches in the area and enjoying personal relationships with many of the ranch families.

For most of its history, because of its size as well as the knowledge and connection of its owners and managers, the Bar U Ranch was able to establish strategic relationships within the shifting economic market during its lifetime to ensure the success of the ranch. Today, the majority of former Bar U Ranch leases are still in use by neighbouring ranchers.

Bar U Ranch was designated nationally significant in 1989 and purchased by Parks Canada in 1991. 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.

The site was officially opened to the public on July 1, 1995. Bar U Ranch is the only Parks Canada heritage place that commemorates the history of ranching in Canada. The site consists of the original headquarters of the Bar U Ranch, representative fields and outbuildings, and a portion of the Pekisko Creek. Thirty buildings are included in the Classified Federal Heritage Building designation.

Resources of other heritage value include a handful of recognized or unevaluated historic structures and a system of corrals, fences, and gates.

Parks Canada Agency manages Bar U Ranch as part of one of the most extensive networks of protected historic and natural places in the world. An important requirement in the management of this national historic site is the development of a management plan. Management plans are important documents that guide the future of Parks Canada heritage places.

The Bar U Ranch management plan will set out a vision and strategic direction for the site, along with specific objectives over the next 10 years. The plan is intended to reflect the values and views of Canadians and will be developed through engagement with Indigenous peoples, stakeholders, youth and the public.

In June, 2019, Parks Canada invited Canadians to share their views and opinions on the future of Bar U Ranch. Canadians were asked to review a summary of key challenges, opportunities and vision elements to be considered in the development of the draft management plan.

Invitations to discuss Bar U Ranch’s strategic direction were also sent out to a number of Indigenous nations and regional stakeholders. Below is a summary of the comments received during this stage of the management planning process.

2. What We Heard

Hundreds of comments on the proposed challenges, opportunities and vision elements were received from the public during the three-month consultation window.

Comments were received through a number of on-site meetings hosted by the Bar U Ranch, including workshops for youth, staff and the Friends of the Bar U.

Site management discussions with Indigenous groups are preliminary and more discussions will take place over the following year. The site received no comments electronically, though at the workshops, support for the national historic site was high and participants were generally in agreement with the proposed challenges, opportunities and vision elements.

The following key themes emerged through consultation.

On Indigenous involvement

Participants highlighted that the heritage of Indigenous peoples in the region should be better reflected and more visible in both personal and non-personal interpretation, including panels and signs, an interpretive area with hands-on activities, and Indigenous story telling.

We heard that Parks Canada needs to tell a more holistic story of the history of Bar U Ranch and of Indigenous peoples in the area; from before the ranch was founded in 1882, throughout the inception of the ranch, right up to present day. These stories should be told by Indigenous people themselves to ensure partnership, involvement and historical accuracy, and can be shared through Indigenous on-site employment, co-developed interpretive programs and special events or staff interpretive training from members of local First Nations.

It was identified that Parks Canada should continue to seek meaningful partnerships and strengthen relationships with Indigenous peoples and organizations.

On promotion, outreach and partnerships

We heard that respondents would like Bar U Ranch to be a top attraction in Southern Alberta. Participants recommended that Parks Canada improves their advertising and promotional activities, including an added social media presence, more curbside appeal and the creation of a new marketing, promotions and outreach plan. It was recommended that Parks Canada encourages increased visitation while ensuring the sustainability of the sites artifacts, infrastructure and natural landscape.

Parks Canada was advised to grow their on- and off-season outreach programs in local communities, schools and at regional festivals and events. There was a strong desire to pursue new, and strengthen current, partnerships to open new markets, protect cultural and natural resources and improve visitor experiences.

On quality experiences for visitors

The majority of respondents want Bar U Ranch to stay “true to their roots” by maintaining the authentic ranching culture and character of the site. They emphasized that Southern Alberta’s ranching history should be valued and presented. We heard that the site should tell stories of Indigenous peoples, ranching across Canada, environmental stewardship and the ranch’s inspiring pioneers and Percherons.

There was interest in growing and improving interpretive experiences at the Bar U Ranch with a focus on interactive activities and displays. For some, this came in the form of ranching demonstrations and a diverse and dynamic range of special events. For others, this meant simulation technologies, audio tours and hands-on activities such as crafting or cooking workshops.

Some were concerned that visitors are currently unable to fluidly move through the site. They made suggestions to improve trail systems and bridges to allow visitors to move from building to building in an efficient and more accessible manner. Others noted an interest in more hiking trails and campsites for outdoor recreational opportunities.

On artifacts, objects and infrastructure

Participants highlighted the importance of preserving historical and archaeological artifacts and objects. Some suggested improvements to storage, including more storage space, enhanced climate control and ensuring artifacts and objects stay on site. Maintaining an updated inventory system of the artifacts and objects to improve organization and monitoring was also suggested. Others want to see artifacts and objects displayed in exhibits and historical buildings to showcase their importance to ranching and present Bar U Ranch’s story.

Many people commented on the need to maintain and conserve historical buildings while leaving them as spaces that visitors can explore and learn. Some respondents were interested in the reconstruction of buildings such as the Percheron show barn and bunk house, while others were interested in better utilizing existing buildings to enhance story telling and artifact display.

On landscape and the environment

Respondents identified interest in preserving Bar U Ranch’s landscape and environment. Some were concerned with the risk of more frequent and severe flooding and the impacts on the natural landscape. We heard that there is a need to mitigate the risks of extreme natural events and adapt to changing patterns of weather.

Understanding the ecological value and environmental history of the site was also noted as an opportunity to learn, share and improve the ranch’s ongoing relationship with the environment. Parks Canada should foster an ethos of stewardship and a commitment to conservation.

3. Moving forward

This information, along with the State of the Site Assessment, Parks Canada mandate and vision, Government of Canada priorities, regulatory and policy obligations, the 2005 Bar U Ranch management plan, site management research and trends, are all carefully considered and will inform the development of Bar U Ranch’s management plan.

The next phase of engagement and consultations will occur in winter 2020. At that time, there will be an opportunity to review and comment on the draft management plan.

For more information on the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, contact:

Dylan Spencer, National Historic Site Manager
Phone: 403-395-3044