In 1873, John and Adelaide Glenn became the first settlers in the Fish Creek valley. They set up a small trading post and farm in 1874. Their first homestead was on the north side of the creek (near Bow Bottom Trail crossing today).
Glenn shares credit with Sam Livingston for planting the first cereal crops in the Calgary area in 1876. He was the first settler to develop an irrigation system in Alberta.
While farming, Glenn continued to supplement his income by trading. He established a combined stopping house and trading store on his farm. This served the growing traffic between Fort Benton (U.S.A.) and Fort Calgary. The Glenn's stopping house became a popular rest area for weary travelers.
In 1879, Glenn sold his farm to Dominion Government and it became Indian Supply Farm #24.
The Blackfoot Confederacy signed Treaty Number Seven in 1877. Indians were paid cash and given reserves totaling close to one million acres. In return, they gave up large tracts of land,
The federal government purchased places like the Glenn's as instructional farms. The ideas was to assist the Blackfoot adjust to their new way of life. The government sold the Fish Creek Supply Farm in the early 1880's because the poor yields did not justify costs.
Quebec's Lieutenant Governor, Theodore Robitaille, purchased the farm on speculation. He planned to sell it in smaller parcels at a good profit. By 1883 when the time the land was rightfully his, the western Canadian real estate market had collapsed. Robitaille's plans fell through.
William Roper Hull and John Hull leased the land from Robitaille in 1887. They bought Fish Creek Supply Farm in 1892, to their holdings. The English-born Hull brothers had learned the basics of the cattle industry on their uncle's cattle ranch in B.C. By the time of this purchase, Hull Brothers Company had become a major force in the local cattle industry.
John Hull transferred his interests in the ranch to William in 1893, making him the sole owner. The era of William Roper Hull is an important part of the history of Bow Valley Ranch.
In 1895, Hull began irrigating the 800 acres he had under cultivation. Prior to irrigating the land in the valley, Hull said the yield was only 90 tons of hay. Yield topped the scales at 1,200 tons by the third year of irrigation! Such enormous yields demanded efficient handling. Hull introduced an innovative, yet simple hay-stacking machine for the farm. Hull's farming methods became famous across Canada.
Hull's farm became a necessary stop for all visiting dignitaries. When Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell visited one of Hull's oat fields, his aids lost sight of him as he strolled through the grain. Senator Lougheed, who also on the tour, happened to have a foot measure with him. Lougheed found the average height of the stalks was six feet one inch. Bowell was suitably impressed.
Hull also cultivated the social life of an elegant class of Canadian ranchers unique to that time period. The Bow Valley Ranche, as Hull renamed the farm, became the focal point for their gatherings. When the original log ranch house burned down, Hull built what was said to be the finest country home in the territories. The natural brick two storey Bow Valley Ranche House still exists today.
Hull sold his meat operations and the Bow Valley Ranche to Patrick Burns in 1902. He moved to Calgary which, at that time, was a two-hour ride away.
Starting with nothing, Patrick Burns came to dominate the western Canadian meatpacking and dairy products industries. When Burns purchased the Bow Valley Ranch (Burns dropped the unnecessary "e"), its purpose and function changed. The Ranch was no longer the site of parties for a fashionable elite. The only entertainment it hosted was the occasional official luncheon for visiting dignitaries and some staff functions.
Hull's progressive irrigation system was also abandoned. To Burns, the Bow Valley Ranch was an integral but small part of his empire. Burns bought out all the nearby ranches and farms. He came to own all the land between the Bow Valley Ranch and his packing plant (still located in southeast Calgary on Blackfoot Trail).
Burns operated the ranch as a holding and sorting site for cattle brought in from other ranches on their way to his slaughterhouse. Animals were fattened up there or at his feedlot (near the Calf Robe Bridge on Deerfoot Trail).
The stands of poplars at the Bow Valley Ranch site are fenced off. There are two different explanations for this. One story is that Burns was an environmentalist who built the fences to protect the trees from cattle. Another story suggests that the fences were to prevent the cattle from eating locoweed. It's a tempting yellow flowered weed that is toxic to cattle.
The Bow Valley Ranch remained in the Burns family until the provincial government bought it in 1972. Fish Creek Provincial Park opened in 1975.