The Bar U Ranch is located just south of Longview, Alberta, on the scenic Cowboy Trail. The area consists of a long stretch of mostly undeveloped prairie where it abutts the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
The Bar U Ranch sits on the eastern slope of the Rockies. It’s a nicely preserved and interesting ranch that provides a look at life on Canada’s great prairies more than a century ago, before the land became fenced off. At a time when the bison had nearly been exterminated from the plains to be replaced by large cattle herds that roamed freely.
The Bar U back then was one of the largest and most successful ranches in Canada, covering 160,000 acres (65,000 ha). It had 30,000 cattle and 1000 Percheron horses. The ranch was founded by Fred Stimson, who kept cattle on the open range between 1881 and 1902. From 1902 to 1925 the ranch was operated by George Lane and his business partners. Two of these owners were instrumental in establishing Calgary’s famous Stampede, with which they hoped to preserve and display some of the cowboy traditions. Their Stampede continues more than a century later and is visited by tens of thousands of people each year.
From 1927 to 1950 the Bar U was operated by Patrick Burns who grew grain on the ranch. After 1950 much of the ranch’s land was sold. The present National Historic Site is the central remnant of this once great ranch, and was bought by Parks Canada. It opened to the public in 1995.
Visiting the Bar U Ranch today:
After parking and paying your admission, you walk out and get your first glimpse of the lovely ranch complex framed by the majestic Rocky Mountains. You can walk downhill to the ranch, or ride down on a wagon pulled by Percheron horses.
The ranch was most famous for breeding Percheron horses, so you should definitely look into that aspect of the Bar U when you visit, including the breeding barns, stables and tack rooms.
The Bar U has the largest collection of historical ranch buildings in Canada. Explore these, several of them having interpreters in period costumes to help explain what you’re seeing and how the different aspects of the ranch worked. For me one of the most interesting buildings is the old bunk house, wherein the ranch hands ate, recreated and slept.
The Bar U Ranch National Historic Site visitor centre includes a reception area, heritage displays, restaurant, and a gift shop. The visitor centre is open daily 10 am to 5 pm during the operating season (usually May – Sept) and is wheelchair accessible.
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