History of Calgary

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The city of Calgary has only been incorporated since 1904, but it is estimated that the Bow River Valley has been inhabited for the last 10,000 years. At the end of the last Ice Age, the ancestors of the present-day native tribes made their way across the Bering Sea from Siberia, traveling down through Alaska before settling in the Rocky Mountain foothills. There they formed the Blackfoot, Sarcee, Blood, Stoney and Shagganapi nations, and subsisted on the seasonal migrations of American buffalo herds. The ir way of life remained relatively unchanged until the late 1870s, when Europeans hunted the buffalo to near-extinction.

With the buffalo gone, the natives began trapping beaver and other fur-bearing mammals for the Hudson's Bay and North-West Trading companies, who set up trading posts in the Bow Valley and at Rocky Mountain House to the northwest. The local furs were especially prized by designers in Paris and New York for their richness and quality, and commanded high prices from the traders.

This lucrative market lured opportunists from the United States, who began selling cheap bootleg whiskey to the traders and native trappers. The resulting anarchy became so bad that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police dispatched officers in 1894 to build Fort Calgary and restore order.

Meanwhile, farmers were beginning to move onto the fertile Alberta prairies. The first settler in the area of what is now Calagary was a cattle rancher who started a small farm near the junction of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, in an area now known as Inglewood. His ranch was the first of hundreds built by the flood of immigrants that would soon pour into the region.

In the late 1800s, Western Canada was still mostly wilderness and the Canadian government was afraid that the Unite d States might try to annex the as yet undefined provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. To unite the nation, a railroad was proposed stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic. This railroad, which began construction in 1881, was to drastically change the nature of Calgary, and transform it from a remote frontier outpost into a bustling jumping-off point for the settling of the Western Prairies.

The Calgary townsite had the good fortune to be built at the entrance to the Kicking-Horse Pass, one of the few passages through the sheer eastern wall of the Rocky Mountains. The 10,000-12,000 foot-high peaks denied access to a railway all along their thousand-mile length, except for a narrow valley which led from Calgary into the heart of British Columbi a. This meant that the railroad had to be routed through Calgary, which became a major supply station during the construction process. Hotels, saloons and shops sprang up to serve the construction workers, and the first trainloads of immigrant farmers and ranchers began pouring in. The fertile plains to the west of Calgary made ideal grain farming territory, while the rich and abundant natural grasses also produced a grade of beef unequaled in North America.

In 1904 the City of Calgary was incorporat ed with a population of 6,000. It grew slowly until the event occurred that would determine the city's direction for the rest of the century. In 1914, just before the start of the First World War, huge reserves of oil were discovered in the surrounding hi llsides. Half the local ranchers became instantly wealthy, and a boom rocked the city. When the demand for oil dried up after the war, recession set in and many residents set off to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

In 1930, seeking to revive the flounderi ng local economy, an American promoter and four local ranchers set out to create the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth," the Calgary Stampede. This celebration of the cowboy culture and the ranching lifestyle became the most celebrated festival in Western C anada, and the rodeo competitions are still a showcase of the best and toughest cowboys and cowgirls in the world.

With its inception in 1924, Banff National Park became an international tourist attraction, drawing mountaineers, skiers and wealthy Europe ans to savor the savage beauty of the mountains while relaxing in the luxurious suites of the Banff Springs Hotel. The townsite of Banff was soon developed, setting a standard for resort communities and attracting tourists from all over the world. Calgary became the staging point for people destined for the park a tourist destination in its own right. Today Calgary is host to hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.

As the Second World War was winding down, a vast oilfield was discovered to the north, n ear Edmonton, ushering in a new boom. While most of the actual drilling and processing of the oil was centered around Edmonton, most company headquarters, refineries and related industries chose locations closer to the railroad in Calgary.

In the 1990s, many of Canada's largest corporations moved their head offices from the more traditional business centers of Montreal and Toronto, and have set up shop in downtown Calgary. The electronics and e-commerce industries have found the community appealing, and are now a driving force behind the city's development.

- Jim Coates