Academic journal article Alberta History

Stampede Park: Origins of a Gathering Place

Academic journal article Alberta History

Stampede Park: Origins of a Gathering Place

Article excerpt

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In the centre of a parking lot bordering Stampede Park and its East Village neighbours to the north, stands a great American elm. With its gently rounded canopy and steady trunk, the tree is one of the oldest in Calgary (1) and has stood as a silent sentinel for over more than a century of growth, change, and development in one of Calgary's most historic places. Over the last hundred and forty years, the land now known as Stampede Park has been occupied by First Nations and Metis people, early Catholic missions, settlement-era stores and residences, and a 94-acre exhibition ground that has grown to include over 200 acres today. As it celebrates its centennial year, the Calgary Stampede looks toward the future of Stampede Park as a world-class, year-round gathering place for the community and visitors. (2) This vision, while focussed on park developments that are just now beginning to take shape, in fact has roots back to the early days of the city. A focal point for commercial and social life during the 1870s, the land known by 1901 as Victoria Park was firmly established before World War I as an important centre for diverse community activities: livestock shows and sales, sports, exhibitions and, of course, the first Stampede in 1912.

The junction of the Bow and Elbow rivers was long known to the Tsuu T'ina people as "kootsisaw" or 'meeting of the waters,' and was an important intersection for First Nations trails in all directions. (3) Eighteenth century explorers and traders, including David Thompson and Peter Fidler, travelled up the Elbow and Bow rivers, and the area upstream from the confluence was the location of two whiskey trading posts in the early 1870s. Once settlers began to trickle into the region, the site of present-day Stampede Park became home to many of the community's earliest residents and establishments. Oblate missionary priest Father Leon Doucet moved to the area in July 1875. (4) He occupied a lone buffalo-skin tipi near the forks of the rivers before establishing permanent operations in the Mission district under the direction of Father Albert Lacombe. (5)

Members of "F" Troop of the North-West Mounted Police also arrived in Calgary in 1875 and raised their tents near the junction of the Bow and Elbow rivers. I.G. Baker & Company of Fort Benton, Montana, was contracted to build the barracks for the troops. Under the direction of D.W. Davis, the Baker company completed the fort by Christmas 1875, and then built a store a few hundred metres to the south-west on the Elbow River. (6) A low building, thirty metres long, this store would serve as the nucleus of Calgary during its very early settlement period. (7) Large numbers of First Nations people gathered and camped in the vicinity, trading their furs and buffalo robes at the Baker store. According to Grant MacEwan, "day or night, Indian ponies could be seen tied to hitching posts placed on all four sides of the building." (8) Metis people, most of whom arrived from Edmonton after the construction of Fort Calgary and the I.G. Baker store, also built cabins on both sides of the Elbow. From there, they provided freighting services to the North-West Mounted Police and traders along the route from Fort Benton to Edmonton. (9)

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The Baker store soon became both the business and social hub of the small settlement. The store supplied the police, and along with the nearby Hudson's Bay Company, also handled financial transactions before banks were established in Calgary. Between 1876 and 1877, Methodist minister the Rev. John McDougall used the store's countertop as a pulpit on Sunday mornings during which time the store suspended its business operations and a small congregation gathered among barrels and dry goods to hear him preach. (10) The Rev. Angus Robertson conducted the first Presbyterian service in Calgary at the I.G. Baker store in 1883. (11) The store was the place to meet friends, particularly after the arrival of the Baker company bull teams from Fort Benton and Fort Macleod. …

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