For millennia, the land was occupied by the Indigenous, specifically the Blackfoot. The bison would dominate the landscape and formed a vital part of the life of the Blackfoot, who hunted the great beasts for centuries. The Blackfoot Confederacy was one of the most powerful Indigenous groups in the interior of the North American continent.
It was the Blackfoot that Anthony Henday would meet in 1754 when he came farther west than any European before him. He would be followed by others including David Thompson, who arrived in 1799 and spent the winter in the area where Calgary is today.
The strength of the Blackfoot in the area delayed the establishment of fur trading posts in the area until the middle of the 19th century. By this point, the bison herds were declining and the way of life of the Blackfoot was being threatened.
Today, Cochrane sits on Treaty 7 land.
In 1881, the Cochrane Ranch was established and named for Matthew Cochrane, who was a Canadian Senator and former livestock breeder who had lived in the area. This made Cochrane the home to the first largely privately owned ranching operation in the future province of Alberta.
The Cochrane Ranch was one of the most important ranches in the entire area for its time. It had been established when the Conservative government started a policy of granting large-scale grazing leases to bring in the ranching elite to what was then the North West Territories. Cochrane decided to take advantage of this and he would choose land that was along the proposed Canadian Pacific Railway route, where there was good land and a nice climate thanks to Chinooks. It also had access to cattle at nearby posts and various Indigenous reserves.
Unfortunately, the ranch suffered several losses in its first two years due to very difficult winters and poor herding practices. In 1883, the company decided to relocate its cattle and instead raised horses and sheep on the ranch. In 1884, the Cochrane Ranche was reorganized under a new company, the British American Company. It was too little too late though and in 1888, the property was sold.
While the ranch was not successful, it played an important role in the initial settlement of the area. In 1976, the ranch was made a provincial historic resource. Today, the ranch is a large community park with several trails that you can take to see the beautiful landscape and to learn about the area thanks to various information signs. There is also a 110-year-old building at the park, along with a reconstructed coral. It is a great place to visit on a beautiful summer day as part of any road trip.
From that ranch, Cochrane would begin, named for Matthew Cochrane and his ranch. The CP Railway was built through the area, spurring on development of the new town. The first building in Cochrane would be a small building used as an office, living room for the telegraph operator and a freight shed.
The first post office would be opened in 1887, with James Johnson serving as the first postmaster for 12 years. He was replaced by C.W. Fisher, who took over before going on to become the first MLA for the area in the 1905 Alberta election. He would serve until 1912.
In 1891, as Cochrane was slowly growing, the King Solomon Lodge would be constructed. This building, which still stands, is one of the oldest remaining milled-lumber structures in town. It is also a rare example of the early construction methods that were used in the area prior to 1900. The building was first constructed in Mitford, Alberta but it would be moved to Cochrane to serve as its first school in 1898. This building would become a symbol of the strength of the community and a landmark. In 1929, the Cochrane Masonic Lodge would take over ownership of the building. Many of Cochrane’s most prominent citizens, including Dr. Andrew Park and MLA Alexander Moore, were members.
The population of Cochrane would grow slowly. In 1903, Cochrane was turned into a village and D. White was made the first overseer. By 1911, the population was 395. Three years later, it had reached 500 but with the First World War, a scarcity of manpower causes the brick plants to close in the community, which then caused the stone quarries to close.
In 1904, the Cochrane Hotel was built in the new community and was one of the most beautiful hotels found outside of an urban centre in Alberta.
Over the years, the hotel would go through different names but in 1989 it became the Rockyview Hotel, the name that it has to this day.
Today, the hotel is one of the landmarks of the community and considered to be a cornerstone of the Historic Downtown of Cochrane. Today, it is a 185-person bar with a stage and dance floor, as well as a dining room and 50-seat outdoor patio.
On Sept. 7, 1912, Cochrane received a very important visitor when the Governor General of Canada, The Duke of Connaught, came to the community. He would inspect the ranches and the various efforts by livestock producers in the area. He would spend several days in the area under a canvas tent on the open prairie at a North West Mounted Police camp. He was also joined by Princess Patricia and other ladies. He would also visit the hospital and address the residents of the community.
On Nov. 15, 1927, The Alberta Hotel, which had stood since 1886, was engulfed in flames and completely destroyed. The fire had broke out in a back room and before long, had spread throughout the building. By 9:30 a.m., the building was completely destroyed despite the efforts of residents to save it. Two chemical wagons were used by the firefighters to try to save the building, while residents operated a bucket brigade in the freezing cold winter temperatures. The Calgary Brigade was unable to come out as they were fighting a grain elevator fire in the city. The loss of the hotel was especially hard for the community as it was one of the most famous landmarks in the entire area.
One year later, Cochrane was hit by a massive fire that was visible from Calgary as the flames lit up the sky. On Sept. 22, 1928, a fire broke out in the Fisher building. Residents quickly responded with two 60-gallon chemical extinguishers and hand pumps. Unfortunately, there was a brisk wind blowing and residents were worried that the rest of the community would be in real danger of burning down. Calgary would send out firefighters to help, which likely prevented the fire from spreading further with the help of residents.
The Calgary Herald would report quote:
“To the plucky townspeople of Cochrane whose battle against the fire demon prevent a great loss from being greater the utmost commendation is due.”
In all, the fire caused $40,000 in damages, or $1 million today.
On March 23, 1960, a child named George Fox was born in Cochrane. Beginning his career in the 1980s, his first single, Angelina, would reach No. 8 on the Canadian Country Music Charts. He would have subsequent hits with Goldmine, No Trespassing, I Give You My Word and What’s Holding Me. All were top 10 singles for Fox, with What’s Holding Me hitting number one. Of his nine albums released in his career, four have been certified as Gold Records. In his career, he has received several Canadian Country Music Awards, including Male Vocalist of the Year three times. He also won Country Male Vocalist Of The Year three times at the Juno Awards.
In 1995, Cochrane named George Fox Trail in honour of him.
If you would like to learn more about the history of Cochrane, you can visit the Cochrane Historical Museum. This museum, which is located on the aforementioned Historic Cochrane Ranch, is housed in a building that was built in 1909 by the Davies family. The building was constructed using bricks from the Collin’s Brick Yard and would also serve as a hospital and nursing home before it was moved to its current site in 1914. Within the museum, you will find artifacts from the history of Cochrane as well as several exhibits that highlight the Indigenous and ranching history of Cochrane.