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Fort Calgary

The Front Gate at Fort Calgary
Alberta often gets a bum rap. As visitors from other parts of the world come to this area and learn a little about our relatively recent beginnings, they accuse us of not having any history. Well, our history may be short, but there’s no shortage of history. For example, the story of Calgary is the story of the west. It’s a story of fur traders, railroaders and North West Mounted Policemen. In the story of Calgary can be felt the passion of discovering and conquering a difficult new world. Calgarians scratched their little town out of the raw prairie, and that little town is now a thriving metropolis. Hidden, almost lost, within its glittering glass centre, can be found the site at which it all began—Fort Calgary.

1t began humbly enough, with a NWMP outpost along the banks of the Bow River in 1875. First organized to force American whiskey traders south of the 49th parallel, the Mounties very quickly established a permanent presence in the west. This fort was placed on a site first visited by David Thompson in 1792 and Peter Fidler in 1800. Prior to the NWMP arrival, Reverend John McDougall, already long established in the area, prepared the local Indians for the arrival of the Mounties. Peacemaker, as McDougall was known to the local Sarcee and Stoney’s, spent the rest of his life working with the local natives and helping in the growth of this tiny community.

Under orders from Colonel James Macleod, Inspector Ephrem A. Brisebois, along with his men, undertook the construction of the fort. With its completion came the difficulty in naming the new post. After careful deliberation, Fort Calgary was officially christened and paid tribute to Colonel Macleod’s family estate in Scotland.

Little changed until the railroad chugged into town in 1883. Suddenly the west was open for business and the tiny fort soon grew to a thriving little town. Within a year there were over 400 residents, but in 1884 much of the downtown burned to the ground. The search for more durable construction materials resulted in Calgary later becoming known as the ‘sandstone city’. The town was incorporated the same year as the fire, and became a city in 1893.

During all this growth, the fort remained virtually unchanged. However, in 1911 the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (later part of the C.P.R.) bought the land on which the fort was located and demolished most of the original police buildings. Only the home of Superintendent Deane survived after being moved from it’s original site. For more than 50 years the old fort was forgotten. Finally, between 1969-70 an archaeological dig was undertaken to try to discover the remains of the original fort. To everyone’s surprise, the results were very positive. There were hundreds of artifacts and the remains of the palisade and wall posts remained in quite good condition. Finally in 1974—100 years after the first Mounties arrived—the site was returned to the city.

After a contest to find an attractive way to redevelop the site, the present Fort Calgary centre was officially opened on May 18, 1978. Today, you can still see the remains of the old fort and then visit the Interpretive Centre to learn more about the history of Canada’s oil capital. Nearby, the home of former Superintendent Deane can still be visited. For the family, take the opportunity to dress up for photographs as a North West Mounted Policeman in authentic period gear.

Through history, we find our connection to our past, and sometimes our passage into the future. Fort Calgary represents the beginning of one of Canada’s most distinctive symbols—the Mountie. As one of the first forts built by this fledgling force, it is one site we should all take the time to visit.

To visit the fort, head downtown along Bow Trail and keep going past the Calgary Tower. After leaving the downtown, the Fort Calgary Interpretive Centre will soon be visible on the left.

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