Description of Historic Place
The Leavings at Willow Creek site consists of a one and one-half storey log house, log and sandstone barn, log stable, and such landscape elements as a well, plantings, and cart trails, as well as various archaeological resources. The site occupies 30.1 hectares near Claresholm, Alberta.
The heritage value of the Leavings (Oxley Ranch) lies in its representation of early ranching activity in southern Alberta. In addition, the Leavings is significant for its association with the Fort Macleod-Calgary Trail, the major north-south thoroughfare prior to the Calgary and Edmonton Railway in 1892, and with the establishment of law and order in the region through the North West Mounted Police (NWMP). The site thus provides rare structural evidence of initiatives by the Canadian government to secure the West from American encroachment after Confederation: the granting of large-scale ranch leases to British-Canadian investors, and the creation of a federal police force.
The term "Leavings" indicated a place where a trail "left" a water supply, where travelers could obtain supplies of water and wood. After Fort Calgary was established in 1875 there were regular supply ("bull") trains and stagecoaches from Fort Benton in Montana to Fort Macleod and on to Calgary. The Leavings was one of four spots between Fort Macleod and Calgary frequently chosen as a camping ground. Sometime in the later half of the 1870s, a stopping house, operated by a former buffalo hunter and whiskey trader, Henry Kountz, began operating. Kountz's cabin was likely located to the south of the present site location, but it is possible that the building was moved and forms part of the house on this site. Visible ruts on the hills overlooking the creek are likely remnants of the original wagon trail.
In 1882, the New Oxley Ranch secured a lease for 200,000 acres from the Dominion Government, making it one of the four largest ranches in the foothills region. In 1882, the ranch's first manager, J.R. Craig, purchased the stopping house. The cabin was then used as the ranch's headquarters. By 1885, it appears that the location of the ranch headquarters had moved to this site and Craig had built the larger log house and the barn. The house is covered with siding with the exception of the back portion, which may be the original Kountz cabin. The house was used as a dwelling by Craig and his family, as well as a stopping house and as the ranch's managerial office. It also became a centre for social activities and, in 1884, a post office. The barn is constructed into a hillside and has a connecting stable. The barn's first storey is constructed of sandstone, with the upper storey and loft being of logs and vertical planks. The floor of the stable is made of vertical posts, which gives it a cobblestone effect. There are many etchings on the interior sandstone, including two inscriptions of '1884' and numerous others that resemble cattle brands and other dates. In a dispute with ranch financiers, Craig left the ranch in 1886, but retained ownership of the property. At this point the ranch headquarters moved to a new location and Craig continued to operate the post office and stopping house. He had hoped to homestead the area, but eventually lost control of the buildings as a result of a legal suit.
From 1886 until 1903 the North West Mounted Police took advantage of the important location of the Leavings by manning an outpost from the site, sending patrols north and west through the Porcupine Hills. During this period, the NMWP rented the house and barn. After the completion of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway, however, traffic on the trail declined and the garrison moved to Claresholm. The grazing lease expired in 1906, at which point the Leavings became part of a homestead.
The house and stable at the Leavings (Oxley Ranch) are among the oldest structures extant in southern Alberta, and rare surviving evidence of a NWMP outpost.
Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 1832)
The heritage value of the Leavings (Oxley Ranch) is contained in such character-defining elements as:
- form, scale and massing of the house and barn;
- remnants of the Fort McLeod-Calgary trail above the break of bank of Willow Creek;
- viewscapes west, south and north across Willow Creek and to the mountains.
- log construction of house, using double saddle notching at corners, in L-shaped plan with a shed addition on the west elevation;
- horizontal shiplap boarding covering south elevation;
- cedar shingles on roof;
- concrete slab foundation;
- fenestration pattern;
Log and Sandstone Barn:
- log construction of barn, with sandstone blocks in foundation and walls and timber framing sheathed with vertical boards in the second-storey hayloft;
- situation: built into side of hill;
- gable roof with cedar shingles;
- stall partitions, plank flooring, posts and beams supporting loft floor above;
- fenestration pattern, one window space each of north and south walls, Dutch door;
- vertical pole paving (posts driven into floor giving cobble stone effect);
- hand-forged nails;
- remnants of whitewashed interior;
- carvings on barn walls and sandstone blocks (e.g. brands, names, dates; "1884" carved into block below north window);
- attached shed (1920s);
- electrical wiring to house and barn.
- two track depression northeast of the barn defining a trail segment, likely the remnants of the historic Calgary-McLeod trail;
- historic dump of materials along the bank of Willow Creek immediately southwest and east of a structure identified as a chicken coop.