Bar U Ranch

Rounding up cattle country history in Canada’s ‘Last Best West.’

Written by Nelle Oosterom

January 28, 2011

The coming of the railway, the disappearance of the bison, and the post-Confederation push to settle the West helped bring gigantic ranches like the Bar U into existence. Established in 1881, it became legendary in part for the colourful characters who passed through its corrals.

For instance, famed cowboy John Ware, a freed black slave from Southern Carolina, performed many marvels at the Bar U, including saving a herd of cattle from a deadly winter storm. And the visiting Prince of Wales — who later, as Edward VIII, abdicated the throne — loved the Bar U so much that he bought the ranch next door. Harry Longabaugh, otherwise known as the Sundance Kid, worked here as a dollar-a-day horse breaker until drawn to more lucrative work as a train robber.

In its time, the Bar U included 650 square kilometres (65,000 hectares) of unfenced grassland and 30,000 head of cattle. The offspring of its one thousand Percheron workhorses pulled carts and trolleys in cities across North America.

The Bar U expanded to include meatpacking plants and flour mills. It was eventually split up and sold, with Parks Canada purchasing 148 hectares in 1991.

Time period: 1881–1950.

Things to do: Take a guided tour on foot or by horse-drawn wagon. View the ranch’s thirty heritage buildings. Watch demonstrations of roping and cattle handling or learn how to throw a lasso and rein in a team of Percherons. Hike the trails in the foothills and attend various special events throughout the summer.

Getting there: Bar U Ranch is about ninety minutes drive south of Calgary, near Longview on Highway 22.

Visit Parks Canada's website

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