Monday, 25 June 2012

Lethbridge, Ranching and Archie McLean

A few years ago someone called me up angry that during a media interview I had talked about the importance of ranching in the development of Lethbridge. This person told me that Lethbridge was based on coal mining and was upset I had stated that ranching was involved in the origin of Lethbridge.

History is never as simple as many people wish it to be. In the late 19th and early 20th century southern Alberta was covered with ranches. These rangelands would only slowly be turned over to the homesteaders. Both ranching and coal mining were significant in the Lethbridge area in the late 19th century. William Stafford, the 1st coal mine manager, started a ranch in the 1890s while also staying on as a mine inspector. A read through of Lethbridge’s earliest newspaper – The Lethbridge News – shows numerous mentions of the ranches and their staff.

Another suggestion of the importance of ranching in southern Alberta (as well as the importance of the man himself) is how many things in southern Alberta are named “McLean.”

Immediately east of Lethbridge is McLean Lake – though most people know it as Jail Lake, its official name is McLean Lake. A rural school that used to be 1.5 miles south-east of the lake was called McLean School. And people who have lived in the area know the area east and south of Lethbridge as the McLean District. As well, while the bridge on the old Taber highway is locally known as park bridge (because of its location near the Provincial Park) its official name is McLean Bridge.

All of these items are named after Archibald J. McLean, better known as Archie McLean, who ran one of the large ranches here in southern Alberta.

McLean was born in Ontario in 1860 and at 21 moved to Montana where he worked on ranches learning the trade. He moved to Alberta in 1886 and was hired as a range rider. After a few years he took on the position of foreman at the C.Y. Ranch west of Taber. He was soon a partner in the ranch. McLean also started and managed an overseas cattle exporting company.

In 1909 Archie McLean was elected the MLA for Lethbridge District. The Lethbridge District constituency should not be confused with the City of Lethbridge constituency which was won by J.S. Stewart (later General Stewart) in 1909. In 1913 and 1917 (under newly reformed districts), McLean was elected the MLA from the Taber area. Elected in 1909 as an Independent Liberal (one of the first two independents ever elected in Alberta), Archie McLean joined the Liberal party the next year. He would later serve as the Minister of Public Works and was instrumental in developing what would become Alberta’s highway system.

In 1921, after leaving politics, McLean started up a new ranch near Fort Macleod. He would remain in the Fort Macleod area until his death in 1933.

But it’s for something else that McLean is more generally remembered. Archie McLean is one of the Big Four who supported the first Calgary Stampede in 1912. McLean, along with Pat Burns, A.E. Cross and George Lane, gave $25,000 each to Guy Weadick to help put on the show.

People at the Calgary Stampede are trying to track down members of the McLean family as they would like relatives of the Big Four to take part in some of the Stampede activities this year. I haven’t heard if they have managed to or not but complicating the matter is that McLean has no living descendants. Research done by Alex Johnston showed that McLean’s estate was never settled. His wife, Margaret Duncan McLean, died in 1906 and his only son, Duncan, died in 1963 unmarried and childless.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Weird Southern Alberta Weather

Sitting here listening to the rain pound against the windows of my office upstairs in the old 1910 Galt Hospital, has made me think of some fun weather stories of southern Alberta past. Here's a few to make you remember that it could always be worse.

Narrow gauge engine stuck in snow drifts near Winnifred, 1887.
Galt Museum Archives 19760234134
1903 — May — Spring snowstorm hits and is remembered for the depth of snow, some three feet on the level. It came at a most inopportune time — in May after the cattle were spread out on the ranges. Losses were very heavy. Two young boys died when caught out in the snowstorm.

Oldman River in flood, 1902.
Galt Museum & Archives 19961000002

1930’s — Between 1933 and 1937, the Prairies experienced only 60% of its normal rainfall. Thousands of livestock starved, crops withered and 250,000 people across the region abandoned their land to seek better lives elsewhere.
Dust storm at Pearce, Alberta, November 1942
Galt Museum & Archives 19961000002
1961 — West Records Single Driest Year. Many areas in the drought-stricken Prairies received only 45% of normal precipitation. The duration, severity and size of the area effected made this drought the worst on record. Losses in wheat production alone were $668 million, 30% more than in the previous worst year, 1936.

1964 — December 15 — “Great Blizzard” lashes southern Prairies. Heavy snows, accompanied by 90km/h winds and –34˚C temperatures paralyzed the southern Prairies. Three people froze to death and thousands of animals perished.

1966 — January 6 — Pincher Creek -- A Chinook wind sent the temperature soaring 21˚C (37.8˚F) in four minutes.

1967 — April 17-20 and 27-29 Blizzards A series of intense winter storms dropped a record 175 cm (5 feet 9 inches) of snow on southern Alberta. Thousands of cattle, unable to forage for food in the deep snow, perished on the open range. It is estimated that 30,000 calves perished. Army units were dispatched to assist in snow clearing, while food, fuel and feed were airlifted into the province. The good news? The Revenue Minister announced that the income tax deadline for residents of southern Alberta was extended two weeks to May 15.

1973 — July 10 — Lethbridge — Temperature soars to 39.4˚C (102.9˚F)
Sept 1987-August 1988 — Drought across the southern Prairies. The hottest summer on record, combined with half the normal growing season rainfall and a virtually snow-free previous winter, produced a drought that rivaled the 1930s in terms of intensity and duration of the dry spell. About 10% of farmers and farm workers left agriculture in 1988. Effects of the drought were felt across the country as lower agricultural yields led to higher food and beverage prices for consumers.

1995 — June — Heavy, warm rains in early June, combined with snow melting, resulted in the highest flood in the Oldman River on record since 1911. Major floods also occurred in 1953 and 1964.

2008 — July 1 — A Canada Day thunderstorm dumped more rain in a 90 minute period than Lethbridge generally gets in a month. Caused extensive flooding.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Something About Fossils

This article, written by a person who gave his identity as X.Y.Z., was published in the 21 August 1889 edition of the Lethbridge News. I encourage anyone interested to read the full article as I have provided here only excerpts from a much longer article.

Lethbridge News (and other early newspapers) can be found at

I don't know who X.Y.Z. was but I can't help but feel he or she was a kindred spirit -- trying very hard to educate and explain to the public about the geology of the area and the fossil finds. I also imaging X.Y.Z. was even a little bit annoyed that people kept calling Ammonites fish (as you'll see below)

"Fossil remains are so numerous in this vicinity, and so frequently being picked up in the river and about the bluffs, that a few notes on the geology of the neighborhood may be found of some interest to the readers of the News.
The formation of the valleys of the Bow and St. Mary's Rivers, belongs to the series of rocks known as the Cretaceous epoch of the mesozoic age -- i.e. a period of geological time, roughly speaking, half-way between the oldest known formations, and those that are essentially modern but still representing the deposits of seas and lakes, whose waters had retreated for many millions of years before man made his first appearance on the face of the earth.
The cretaceous rocks in the immediate vicinity of Lethbridge -- from Kipp, above, to Big Island Bend, below, in the valley of the Belly River, and from Whoop-Up about ten or twelve miles up the valley of the St. Mary's River -- are sub-divided into the St. Pierre, and Belly River series, the line of division between the two being marked by the seam of coal that outcrops at the Galt and Sheran mines, again opposite Whoop-Up, and at various other points. The coal marks the best of the St. Pierre, and the underlying rocks belong to the Belly River series....
From this series [St. Pierre] comes the great majority of the fossils so commonly found in the neighborhood. One of the most characteristic fossils of the mesozoic age is the Ammonite.In broken pieces, covered with the iridescent remains of its shell, and often showing the interlocking of the Yoliated joins of its chambers, which are mistaked as indications of a vertebral column, the fragments of this fossil are commonly shown as 'fossil fish;' or when more perfect, in form approaching a circle, often beautifully marked, where the shell has fallen away, with complicated foliations, it is sometimes gravely asserted to be petrified liver!
The Ammonite was a mollusc and no more a fish than is an oyster....
Allied to the spiral Ammonite is the Baculite. This is a straight shell with similar foliated markings arising from similar causes, but the chambers of the shell, instead of being arranged in a spiral, arranged along a straight line. These Baculites are almost invariably called 'fish' and are found very commonly in conjunction with the Ammonite....
In this same series of rocks, below the Island Bend, remains have been found supposed to belong to a carnivorous Dinosaurian. These reptiles flourished in the mesozoic age, and often attained an enormous size. They are among the largest of known terrestrial animals; the Iguanodon, for example, reaching a length of from 50 to 60 feet and they are particularly interesting as forming an intermediate group between reptiles and birds. It is not at all improbable that the mammoth remains, reported to have been found at Grassy Lake, really belonged to one of these hugs extinct birdlike reptiles and it is very likely that other reptilian remains may be found in the neighborhood, for the mesozoic age was essentially the age of reptiles, which then attained an enormous size, and were numerous on land and in water and in air."

This article also makes me very curious how many fossils were found around here in the 1880s and 1890s and makes me wonder what eventually happened to some of those fossils.

I can't resist, though, mentioning that dinosaurs did not live in the water or in the air -- only on land. Sorry, X.Y.Z., it just had to be said. Those in the water or the air were reptiles, but not dinosaurs.