Through the area of Strathmore, the Blackfoot and Cree would follow the bison herds that once dominated the area of southern Alberta. Of course, those bison herds were nearly wiped out by the hunting of Canadian and American settlers, which would greatly alter the life of the Indigenous that once called the area home.
Called the Children of the Plains, the Blackfoot roamed in an area that stretched up to Edmonton, to the Manitoba border and into the United States before the arrival of settlers. At the time, the Blackfoot, or Siksika, were made up of 36 Clans, totally 18,000 people who grouped themselves into three main tribes to form the Blackfoot Confederacy. In the area of Strathmore, the tribe was the Middle Blackfoot.
In 1877, Treaty 7 would be signed at Blackfoot Crossing to the southwest of Calgary. At the time of the signing, two notable Blackfoot leaders were in the area, Chief Crowfoot and Chief Old Sun. By 1883, the number of Blackfoot clans had dropped down to only 19. Today, the Siksika First Nation has a reserve just southeast of Strathmore, with a population of 6,869, half of which live on the reserve.
Founding of the Community
Strathmore owes its existence to the railroad, which reached the area on July 28, 1883 during the quest to create a transcontinental railway from the east to the west of Canada. The town was named by the CPR, who chose to honour Claude Bowes-Lyon, the Earl of Strathmore. One interesting note is that the granddaughter of the Earl, Queen Elizabeth, the consort to King George VI, passed through the community on the Royal Train in May of 1939.
In the laying of the track, a record was set by the Canadian Pacific Railway when it was able to lay down 10 kilometres of track, a record for one day by the company.
Of course, it may be that Strathmore was named more for the area of Scotland, the Strathmore Valley, where the earl resided. The name was provided by James Ross, a Scottish man who chose to honour Scottish names with choices for names, hence the choice of Strathmore.
Thanks to the railroad, Strathmore would become an unloading point for thousands of settlers over the coming decades.
In 1905, the Irrigation Colonization Company completed its irrigation works, and it necessitated a move of the few buildings of Strathmore to four miles north, which gave the community the name “the town that moved”, although as we have seen in my looks at various town histories, it is somewhat a common practice. Also, at the time there was little to be found in the community beyond the section house. By August of 1905, five blocks had been surveyed and opened for sale by the CPR.
The move would change Strathmore forever and turn it into the thriving community that it is today.
In 1907, Strathmore would welcome a brand-new train station, built to accommodate the growing number of new residents arriving.
The year the town moved, the community would see lots being sold for high prices and around the area, land was selling for $12 to $25 an acre depending on the access to water.
By 1911, the town had a population of 520, and on July 6, 1911, the hamlet officially became a town. The population would change little for the next few decades though, rising only to 1,000 by the 1960s. In the 1970s, an oil boom would hit the area and it would see Strathmore explode in size. Before long, the community went from 1,000 people to 13,000 people and was an important stop along the highway towards Calgary.
The railroad would survive in the community until 1981, when the last rail was removed from the community. As for the irrigation system that Strathmore owes its prosperity to, that was turned over to the users in 1944 and continues to run to this day.
The Ice Storm Of 1932
On April 20, 1932, a storm came into the area that would leave quite the mark on the early community of Strathmore. It was on that day that the ice began to fall from the sky, coating all of Strathmore in ice. There were reports of people skating through the streets as if it was a hockey rink.
The storm began with heavy rain falling on the community, which froze quickly when the cold weather moved in. The ice formed over trees and power poles, causing them to break and fall over. The storm would cut off the CFCN radio transmitter from its power source, leaving the town without its local radio.
For most people, there was no electricity in homes, so they did not worry about the loss of power, but many trees in the yards of residents lost their branches if they did not fall over completely.
The community would enlist all available help to get the broken lines and poles erected again and repaired. It would be weeks before power was returned completely to those who needed it in the area.
Today, one of the biggest events of the year for Strathmore is the stampede. The stampede dates back a century to 1921, when the first stampede was held on July 19 of that year, the opening day of the Great War Memorial Hall in the community. The next stampede would be held in 1922, and the 1923 stampede was one of the biggest of those early years. Around that same time, a parade was added, and the stampede was becoming one of the biggest events of the year for Strathmore. Participation from the nearby Blackfoot Nation Indigenous was also encouraged, which was rare for that time in stampedes and rodeos. The stampede would disappear for a time in the 1930s and 1940s but would eventually return in the 1960s.
Since those early years, the stampede has grown to be one of the biggest in the area and a great event to visit for anyone who loves the rodeo. The next stampede is scheduled to be held on July 30, 2021, running until Aug. 2.
The 1924 Fire
On July 10, 1924, it was a sunny summer day in Strathmore, and no one had any idea that destruction was coming to the town. The Calgary Stampede was going on nearby in Calgary and a function was planned for the two-storey Opera House in Strathmore. Nearby, at the garage of Nels White, Alex Gray and his cousin Jack were working on plow shares using both forges to heat the shares so they could be repointed with a hammer. Suddenly, the fire alarm began to ring in town and Gray ran out of the garage to see that the Opera House was on fire. He quickly met with the other members of the fire brigade and they took their two chemical wagons up to the building. Before long, the Opera House was engulfed in flames and the fire was at a real risk of spreading. There was a firewall and a vacant lot to the east of the Opera House, so there was no danger of the fire spreading in that direction, but it did move to the east and reached Lambert’s Drug Store, and then two other buildings. With the two chemical wagons depleted, a bucket brigade began to prevent the fire from spreading. The Opera House was burning so hot by this point, no one could get close to it.
The CPR was loading up its IHC truck with water from its irrigation system, so all the people in town could do was wait for it to arrive. Before long, the fire had jumped to the butcher shop as well. The Calgary Fire Department with its pumper truck and 1,500 feet of hose and seven firemen were also on their way, but it would take two hours.
At this point, the east end of Main Street was almost completely on fire. To protect themselves from the fire that was burning so hot near the Opera House, the firefighters put mattresses on their backs. They then began to use the water brought in from the irrigation system to fight the fire. The Calgary Fire Department arrived around 7 p.m., and the fire was brought under control. By midnight, only embers were left on the street and the fire fighters were exhausted.
After the fire, council found a proper supply pump for the fire department and in 1925, work began to build fire resistant brick buildings with concrete foundations.
The Demonstration Farm
In 1908, the Canadian Pacific Railway made the decision to create a 2,000-acre Demonstration Farm, located on the east side of the railroad tracks immediately west of the irrigation district headquarters. Before long, this property would have large dairy barns, horse barns, silos, a creamery, and greenhouses. To provide a better water supply, a dam was built as part of a growing irrigation effort for the entire area.
The farm would test various crops to see how they grew in southern Alberta, helping to improve the overall agricultural industry of the province. Crops such as strawberries, potatoes and assorted vegetables were grown. On top of that, herds of cattle were raised and began to take to the land quickly. By 1915, an entire registered herd of cattle had been acquired. Poultry sheds were soon added to the demonstration farm. By 1927, the herd was the largest registered Holsteins in Canada with over 600 females.
During the summer, 12 to 15 acres of hand selected grain was grown on the farm, and these plots were carefully monitored to see how the crops grew, and what varieties would work best for settlers.
One of the first movies ever produced in Alberta was made on the farm in 1910 to promote an influx of immigrants to the area titled “An Unselfish Love”. The film promoted the farming and ranching opportunities in the area and was sponsored by the Canadian Pacific Irrigation Colonization Company.
Strathmore Walking Tour
A great way to learn the history of a community is to take part in the walking tour, and Strathmore has an excellent one that showcases the history from its original days to today. Beginning in 1907, you can see the spot where the railroad once stood, and progress through the emergence of the town, the boom that saw a great deal of growth in the community, to the sports that brought the town together and the communication systems that connected it with the world. While many of the buildings are gone, some remain, and you can discover their history through this excellent tour.
A printable guide to the walking tour can be found on the town website.
When I look at the history of a community, I enjoy seeing the people who have come from it. In the case of Strathmore, there is Harrison Gray. Born in Calgary and raised in Strathcona, he would play in a variety of leagues including the EHL, CPHL and WHL. For a moment, he made a trip to the NHL as well. On Nov. 28, 1963, he was called up by the Detroit Red Wings to play 40 minutes of a game against the Montreal Canadiens. In the game, he would lose 7-3 in the game, but he holds a place in hockey history. He is the last goalie to come in to replace a goaltender, in this case Terry Sawchuk, as an emergency non-roster replacement from the stands, who came into a game.