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.
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.