Monday, September 29, 2014

Communities in Bloom hosts NWMP Tree Dedication at Library grounds

Farley Wuth, Wendy Ryan, John Hancock, Diane Burt-Stuckey, Rosaleen Berger, Cst. Whittington
in the shade of a mighty elm
C. Davis photos
Chris Davis

A tree dedication ceremony hosted by Communities In Bloom was held on Wednesday afternoon September 24, National Tree Day,  in front of the Pincher Creek and District Municipal Library on Main Street.  There, a stand of impressive elm trees was dedicated to the Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP), who helped found Pincher Creek.

The event featured speeches from Retired RCMP Constable Nigel Whittington and Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village Curator Farley S. Wuth, and a reading of the dedication plaque by Town of Pincher Creek Director of Community Services Diane Burt Stuckey, who is also an avid local historian.  Also in attendance were Community In Bloom stalwarts Kathleen and John Hancock, Rosaleen Berger, and Wendy Ryan. Wuth's comments were derived from a full length essay he wrote about the significance of the Northwest Mounted Police Horse Ranch to the establishment of Pincher Creek, printed in full below this article.

Cst. Nigel Whittington (Ret.) unveils plaque

"The biggest thing that hit Alberta was the railway," said Ret. Cst. Whittington during his speech.  "Things were changing slowly, but surely, but when the railway hit things changed dramatically. That's also when we started putting names on everything."

"We had a police presence here until Alberta went with the Alberta Provincial Police."  According to Whittington, in the 1920s  "Pincher Creek and Beaver Mines were policed from Lethbridge.  Alberta Provincial Police would come out and they would stop at certain houses and farms on the way out and spend the night and make their patrol in tow or three days, and go back to Lethbridge and make their report."

DIane Burt-Stuckey (right) reads plaque

Diane Burt-Stuckey fondly remembered a time when the site was Pincher Creek's ball diamond. "That little metal post that is by that tree down there (east of the library adjacent to Main Street), that's the last remains of the ball park fence, the MCC diamond." She said she's seen photos from the 1950s, when the ball park was still there, and the trees were "much smaller then."

"I know that when we built the facility here, we made every effort to move the facility back far enough that we didn't affect this stand of elm trees."

Dedicated to the NWMP - Elms in front of Library

"They are very precious to our community. they are beautiful trees, and I think it's very fitting that we honour the history of the trees and the long standing history of the NWMP. It's a very good marriage."


The Northwest Mounted Police Horse Ranch is part of our Agricultural Heritage

Farley Wuth

The ranching industry always has been a strong influence in shaping our local history in that it has provided us with much of our economic strength.  The origins of that ranching development can be traced to the Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP) and their Horse Ranch, which was established along the Pincher Creek back in 1878.

The Force was created a scant five years earlier, in 1873, in an attempt to stop the Whiskey Trade which ravaged the northern plains during the late 1870s and early 1870s.  Fort Macleod was established the year following the Mounties’ creation, and by 1875 a scattering of further NWMP Posts including Forts Calgary and Walsh were dotted across the Canadian Prairie landscape.  The Whiskey Trade was brought to a successful end, yet the Mounties faced enormous geographical challenges in patrolling the vast territories across the West.  Their law enforcement duties had to be conducted on horseback, the primary means of transportation at the time.

Rationale and initial work of the ranch

The NWMP were quick to realize the importance of a secure supply of horses to meet their patrolling requirements.  Equally essential was a good ranch on which to raise a large herd.  The Force, in its patrols of the rolling countryside west of Fort Macleod, acknowledged that potentially this was prime ranching country.  Blessed with open range, wild grasses, virtually countless mountain-fed streams which provided a fairly steady supply of water, and an often favourable winter climate blessed with the Chinook, the Force knew that the area would be ideal for their much required horse ranch.  A site along the yet unsettled Pincher Creek, some nine miles upstream from its confluence with the Oldman River, seemed to meet those agricultural requirements.  The Force established their ranch there.

Work immediately began during the summer of 1878.  That August the initial herd of horses was driven in from Fort Macleod.  One of the nine original Mounties assigned to the Pincher Creek Horse Ranch, A. H. Lynch-Staunton (1860 – 1932) recorded many years later the frontier nature of that fateful trip to Pincher Creek from Fort Macleod.  The trip was not easy.  The countryside was virtually deserted except for the native peoples and pioneer William S. Lees, who had the only ranch in the area, located where the Pincher Creek empties into the Oldman River.  Memorably lacking were all modern conveniences, such as roads, bridges and fences, which today’s society now takes for granted.  The vast expanse of countryside was seen as a wide sweep of prairies and tall wind-swept grasses.  Ahead of the initial crew that summer were the two hundred head of horses, and behind them were pulled the wagons and implements required for the ranch.  Given the remote conditions of the Western Canadian prairies, this would have been quite the sight to see.  Indeed, the Mounties were participating in a frontier adventure.

Once at the Pincher Creek, a very sketchy survey of the proposed ranch topography and size was undertaken.  From an official Dominion Lands Survey standpoint, it covered most of Sections 23, 35 and 36, Township 6, Range 30, West of the Fourth Meridian.  The detachment and its ranch were located on the south side of the Pincher Creek, although back then some portions of the watershed may have flowed a hundred meters or so further north than its present course.  This included the present Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village grounds.  The Detachment itself was constructed at a site now occupied by Pincher Creek’s Multi-Purpose Facility and Tennis Courts.  Close to the Creek and protected from the weather, the location was ideal.  The Horse Ranch extended across the landscape to the east and south of the Detachment.  In terms of the modern landscape, this territory included much of the eastern and southern portions of the community of Pincher Creek including its industrial section, the grounds of Matthew Halton High School and the golf course on the south hill.  Current ranch properties immediately east and south of town also were included in that 1878 Horse Ranch.

The four Mounties who set out with the horses that August, John Johnson, Charles Kettles, Pete McEwen and William Reid, also started construction of the barracks, ranch buildings, corrals and fences.  During the first season, timber, primarily pine and fir was located in a remote area to the southwest and upstream along the Pincher Creek.  This was soon to be known as the Christie Mine Ridge, located only a short distance from Beauvais Lake.  The timbers were hauled in by teams of horses.  Two houses and a small kitchen were constructed that autumn.

In October that same year, 1878, the second contingent of Mounties arrived at Pincher Creek.  Inspector Albert Shurtliff, accompanied by A. H. Lynch-Staunton who decades later recorded his reminiscences, James Bruneau, David Grier and William Parker came to assist with the work started by the others.  During the winter and following summer close to 28,000 fence rails were cut, and a large corral with stables running the length of one side were constructed.  Log sheds utilized for storage also went up.

Ranch's success

The Horse Ranch quickly flourished.  The local topography and climate were favourable and the interest of the local Mounties ensured that initial success.  Within five years the herd numbered 300 horses.  Many were raised for breeding purposes, ensuring a steady supply for the Mounties’ patrols.  Several horses, numbering as many as a dozen, were kept at the ranch for the operation of the local detachment itself.  Some were used as saddle horses and others as park horses.  The large territory which had to be patrolled by the Pincher Creek detachment and the four main outposts on the southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies required a good selection of horses.  The entire area delineated by the Porcupine Hills to the north and the International Boundary to the south, the Waterton or Kootenai River to the far east and to the Rocky Mountains to the west was the responsibility of the local Mounties.

In 1882, four years after its establishment, the Horse Ranch was privatized, and was contracted out to the Stewart Ranch Company.  Those initial years had been very successful for the Ranch, but had taken up much of the Force’s manpower, which otherwise would have been spent in direct law enforcement duties.  The Stewart Ranch Co. worked closely with the NWMP, particularly after 1886, to continue to raise quality horses for the Force.  The Ranch continued to flourish throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, and its connection with the Northwest Mounted Police only decreased during the First World War era when changing technology meant that horses were no long required in such great numbers for those rural patrols.

Long term impact of the ranch

The success of the NWMP’s Horse Ranch had profound impacts with the Force, the agricultural industry, and the local community of Pincher Creek.  First of all, the steady supply of horses ensured that the Force always had an adequate to conduct its rural law enforcement duties.  In an era when mechanized travel, particularly in remote areas, was only a pipe dream, horses were essential means of transport.  This was especially important for the Force, when rural patrols across vast distances and keeping flexible schedules were required.  The Horse Ranch truly saved the Mounties’ bacon.

Secondly, the working of the Horse Ranch established beyond a shadow of a doubt that ranching could be a viable industry on the southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies.  Its success was due in part to the area’s prime ranching conditions: its topography, access to water, vegetation, and those ever-favoured Chinooks.  Early ranchers and business people saw those agricultural possibilities.  By 1879 other large ranches in the Pincher Creek area were being established, and within another six years the landscape was dotted with a mixture of corporate and family operations.  The former included the Walrond (1883), Oxley (1883) and Cochrane (1886) Ranches, while the latter numbered such operations as F. W. Godsal’s South Fork Ranch (1883), the immense spread of Herbert M. Hatfield (1885) and the picturesque Mountview Ranch (1887) of the Cox Family.  The fact that several of the local Mounties, including Charles Kettles, A. H. Lynch-Staunton, and Peter McEwen also launched personal ranches in the area after their official retirement from the Force lent much credibility to the local industry.

And thirdly, the NWMP’s ranching efforts also led to the creation of the settlement of Pincher Creek itself.  Indeed, the Mounties’ effort can be seen as the cradle of that settlement.  Town folks realized its strategic location in terms of shelter, water supply and central location vis-à-vis the ranching industry.  Within three years of the Ranch’s 1878 establishment, other pioneers were settling along the Creek, the first being the Albert and Sarah Morden Family.  By the mid 1880s a small, yet thriving settlement was securely placed upon the map.  Three hundred people resided in Pincher Creek according to the Dominion Census of 1901.  The settlement boasted a general store, operated by James Schofield and Henry Hyde, as early as 1883.  Other places of commerce including department stores, hotels and banks followed suit.  The community catered to the business and social needs of the surrounding ranching industry, which more or less guaranteed its continued survival.

The Pincher Creek Horse Ranch operated by the Northwest Mounted Police has had a significant historical legacy.

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