Beginning in 1882, Bar U Ranch set high standards for ranching




On the surface, these people appear to have little in common. Digging deeper, it is clear they share at least one thing . . . Alberta. More specifically, the Bar U Ranch near Longview, Alta.

From the time the ranch was first established in the early 1880s, it hosted numerous guests and was home to many employees. Among the more high-profile visitors were Edward VIII, the Prince of Wales who would ascend to the throne as king in 1936 before abdicating his position later that same year, and western artist Charlie Russell.

Henry Longabaugh also called the Bar U Ranch home for a brief period. In later years he would become better known as Butch Cassidy?s infamous outlaw partner, the Sundance Kid, but he spent time working at the ranch in the early 1890s after fleeing to safety north of the border.

Prior to becoming one of the foremost and most famous ranching operations in the country, the Bar U Ranch started out as the North West Cattle Company. It was one of the first major corporate ranches to be established on the Prairies.

At the time, the Canadian West was becoming an attractive option for interests in eastern Canada. Their excitement was bolstered by the government?s plans to connect the country by rail and the growing cattle trade between Canada and Great Britain.

As such, they were eagerly racing to tap the potential of the territory and lobbied the government of Sir John A. Macdonald to change legislation to allow cattle companies to lease large blocks of land for grazing.

Ultimately, it led to the creation of corporate ranches.

The Stimson brothers ? Fred and his brother Charles ? were among the investors. Connections to the family of Sir Hugh Allan, one of the richest men in Canada at the time, helped attract the Allan family to the venture. It would also lead to its success.

The North West Cattle Company was established in March 1882. Fred, who had previous experience running his family?s farm interests in Quebec, was manager.

Over the years the Bar U Ranch continued to grow and thrive. It was considered one of the best-managed ranches, and served as a training ground for many cattlemen.

George Lane was one of those men. He worked at the company for seven years before leaving to pursue other initiatives. In 1902 he joined with other partners to purchase the Bar U Ranch. At an estimated $250,000, it was one of the largest transactions to take place in the territory.

In addition to cattle, Lane expanded his herd of Percheron horses. With numerous prizes and awards, the ranch soon developed a reputation as a centre of excellence for breeding cattle and horses. The business grew to include nearby ranches, as well as farms, meat packing factories and flourmills.

To accommodate the growing business, the size of the ranch also grew. New buildings, barns and corrals were constructed.

Following Lane?s death, Pat Burns purchased the Bar U Ranch in 1927. It soon became part of a larger integrated food-processing system that extended through Alberta into British Columbia.

By scaling back operations, he was able to successfully see the ranch through the Depression years, as well as the Second World War.

It remained one of the largest ranches in the country until 1950, when land was sold off to other ranchers.

The Bar U Ranch was acquired by Parks Canada as a national historic site in 1991.

(Paul Spasoff is a freelance writer with an interest in Western Canadian history. Paul can be reached at

Historic Bar U Ranch

Set in the rolling foothills, the Bar U Ranch commemorates the history and importance of ranching in Canada. The site has 35 buildings and structures, illustrating various stages of ranching development, and is rich in cultural landscape features. A Visitor Orientation Centre and a vibrant living history program interpret a time when the West was young.

Visit Parks Canada at

The site hosts information, directions and an interactive slide show of the Bar U.