As the “birthplace of Montana” Fort Benton has incredible history in its own right.
Fort Benton also played a pivotal role in the early history of southern Alberta. The Whoop-Up Trail started in Fort Benton. Fort Benton supplied the fur/buffalo/whiskey trade. Many of the early stores in Lethbridge were operated from Fort Benton. The Mounties re-stocked and organized themselves in Fort Benton. Fort Benton is where everyone met and traded.
It would be impossible to put into this blog everything about Fort Benton. But here’s a few that I especially wanted to share.
1. You can spend hours in Fort Benton going through all of the museums and sites. The tour of the newly recreated Fort was well worth attending. The tour guide was informative and humourous.
2. I found information I wasn't expecting but which may help to answer a question in my own research. I'm researching the southern Alberta sugar beet industry. When the industry started in 1903 one of the groups working in the sugar beet fields were Chinese workers. But there’s virtually no information. How were they recruited to southern Alberta? Were they people who had worked in the railroad building and who remained? Were they a different group? Where did they go after their time in southern Alberta? Did any of the families stay in southern Alberta? In Alberta? Was it just young, single men? I have been looking in numerous archives and books trying to find the answer.
Then I found this panel in one of Fort Benton’s museums. There may be no connection and it may just be coincident but at least it gives me another possible source to research.
3. We are linked historically to northern Montana. We are also linked geographically. Our farmers share common concerns and problems. And they also share some of their answers and solutions.
Marquis Wheat was so important to the people of Lethbridge that we named one of our major hotels after it (Marquis Hotel built 1928). This wheat could be farmed in more diverse climates then previous wheat, had high yield and made a good bread.
I do wonder how many people know that strip farming is a southern Alberta invention. First recorded mention is in the Lethbridge Herald in 1915.
4. I stayed over night in the 1880s Grand Union Hotel. The restoration work on the building is wonderful. The ambience is great. The hotel is right on the Missouri River and the walk along the river – with all of the interpretive panels and artwork – is time very well spent.
I did spend the night in one of the rooms that is supposed to be haunted. But I'm sure none of you want to hear about that.
Next time -- Cody, Wyoming, and the question of ladders over barb wire fences.