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.

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