Description of Historic Place
Bar U Ranch National Historic Site of Canada comprises 148.43 hectares of rangeland that constitute the original headquarters site of an Alberta cattle ranch established in the 1880s. Located in a shallow east-west valley along the banks of Pekisko Creek in southern Alberta’s foothills, the ranch includes rolling uplands, level flats, covered creek bottoms and a variety of wooden ranch buildings. The designation refers both to the landscape and the built elements of the site.
The Bar U Ranch was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1989 because of:
- its important role in the ranching industry in Canada.
The heritage value of Bar U Ranch National Historic Site of Canada lies in the integrity of its cultural landscape as a representation of Alberta ranching in the 1880-1950 period. It is embodied in the enduring rural character of the landscape, in its continued use for cattle raising, and in the traditional elements of the ranch landscape associated with foothills cattle country, both natural and man-made.
The Bar U Ranch was established in 1882, under the federal government’s grazing lease policy by the North-West Cattle Company, a firm of investors led by Québec resident Fred Stimson. In 1902 it was acquired by George Lane, a cowboy and former Bar-U foreman who had become a major cattleman. He sold it to Patrick Burns in 1927, and it operated as part of Burns’ cattle conglomerate until 1949. The Bar U Ranch was in continuous operation as a cattle ranch from 1883 until 1991. Since that time, ranch activity has been guided by interpretive priorities rather than those of the cattle industry.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1989; Commemorative Integrity Statement, November 2000.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- the completeness of the cultural landscape in its natural and man-made morphology and its native and evolved plant material such as native fescue grass and cottonwood;
- the traditional organization of the property including the maintenance of large unenclosed spaces and the clustering of built features in three zones within the coulee along Pekisko Creek bottom ringed about by steep hillsides;
- the surviving identity of the three general activity zones: Zone 1 on the south side of Pekisko Creek which contains four houses and an assortment of small outbuildings, Zone 2 stretching east along the south side of the creek consisting of 15 buildings including barns, sheds, and bunkhouses, and Zone 3 situated on the north side of the creek containing 10 operational structures including stables, barns sheds and an abattoir;
- the modest profile, dispersed changeable siting and continued presence of ranch buildings from the 1883-1949 period with their simple massing, modest proportions and medium-pitched roofs, evidence of original interior layout, wood construction and cladding materials, their varied techniques of horizontal log construction and the vernacular construction techniques in the frame buildings;
- the layout of the site in functionally grouped building complexes such as that of the cookhouse, storage buildings, root cellar, and their dedicated exterior spaces such as corrals, gardens and storage areas for wagons and hay racks;
- the functional grouping of buildings, structures and spaces associated with a particular livestock or livestock support management activity;
- the visual cohesiveness of the scale, materials, functional design and stout construction of the man-made structures in the traditional ranch landscape, including the fences and corrals, feeders and shelters;
- the visible physical evidence of use, wear marks and patterns on all ranch structures;
- the traditional pattern of transportation, communication and utility avenues such as original roadways, the main bridge site, primary and secondary pathways, utility poles, irrigation works, and fencelines;
- the continuous patterns of planted vegetation, gardens, shrubs and trees, cattleguards;
- the continued presence of natural vegetation on the ranch, including the prairie wool, large grasslands, cottonwood creek and gulch borders;
- the natural contours of the ranch land, the rolling uplands, flat grasslands and creek beds;
- the integration of enduring spatial and functional relationships between natural, built and vestigial landscape features on the present ranch site;
- archaeological evidence of pre-1882 occupation as well as ranch use of the headquarters site;
- the viewscapes between natural and built features, from the ranch to the surrounding grass and scrub-covered escarpment, from locations on the present ranch to severed Bar U lands, and of the Rocky Mountains.