Academic journal article Urban History Review

Blurred Vision: The Calgary Union Stockyard Issue, 1913-1914

Academic journal article Urban History Review

Blurred Vision: The Calgary Union Stockyard Issue, 1913-1914

Article excerpt


Calgary's historic association with the ranching industry and the increased volume of livestock from mixed farms led municipal leaders to explore the possibility of establishing a union stockyards in the city in 1913-1914. The measures taken to realize this ambition proved futile for several reasons. City leaders could not match their vision with coherence or direction. The result was inadequate consultation with stakeholders, internecine rivalries, and an almost comical sequence of policy changes in which the city's role in the proposed stockyards stance went from coordinator to partner to sole owner. City Council's well-meaning but ill-informed campaign reflected the random approach to civic policy-making that characterized municipal governments of the period.


L'association historique de Calgary avec l'industrie d'elevage, de meme que l'augmentation du betail provenant de fermes mixtes ont amene les administrateurs municipaux a explorer la possibilite d'etablir une union de parcs a betail (union stockyards) dans la ville en 1913-1914. Les mesures prises pour realiser ce projet ambitieux se sont montrees vaines pour plusieurs raisons. Les elus municipaux ne pouvaient faire coincider coherence ou direction avec leur vision. Il en est resulte une consultation inadequate avec les parties interessees, des rivalites internes et une succession presque comique de changements politiques au cours desquels le role de la ville, vis-a-vis de la proposition de parcs a betail, est passe de coordinateur a partenaire, puis a proprietaire unique. La campagne bien intentionnee mais mal informee du conseil municipal reflete son approche aleatoire en matiere d'elaboration des politiques communautaires qui caracterisait les administrations municipales de l'epoque.



Town and city promotion was an enduring feature in the western Canadian urban experience. Here, local governments with their greater access to scarce financial resources played the most pivotal role in pursuing growth polices. According to Alan Artibise, "Active promotion of growth was a prime concern of a municipal corporation." (1) This view is echoed by Paul Voisey who argues that a city's success was linked to the foresight and ambition of its local government. (2) John Mollenkompf and Maurice Careless both stress how elitist city councils were willing to join with other interest groups in furthering urban growth. (3) City councils in early Calgary reflected all of the above. From the outset, both before and after the establishment of a Board of Trade, booster-minded city councils acted on the belief that the road to "big city" status could be shortened by proactive corporate policies. These policies took two forms. The first was an enthusiastic and uncritical reception to any initiative involving capital expenditure. For example, in the 1890s, City Council involved itself in promoting additional railway connections, a federal experimental farm, a horse-training facility for the British cavalry, and a tuberculosis treatment centre. (4) City officials were also not adverse to direct civic involvement in economic activities, should the opportunity present itself. However, the lack of reliable information and an established well-trained executive, meant that city councils were ill-equipped to deal with the complexities associated with long-range business ventures. As a result, civic policy-making was marked by enthusiasm and optimism more than forethought or deliberation. In Calgary, the stockyards issue that emerged in 1903-4 and played itself out in 1913-14 provides an excellent example of this two-pronged approach to civic economic development. At another level, it allows some observations on the historic evolution of Calgary's western or "cowtown" image.

Early Stockyard Activity in Calgary

The ranching industry provided Alberta with its first important commercial activity. …

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