Calgary & Southern Alberta
Courtesy of the Friends of Nose Hill Park
For millennia, Nose Hill stood silent vigil as Glacial Lake Calgary receded and a river surging out from the mountains carved its way through the old lake bottom. Over the centuries that followed, the hill witnessed a succession of people sculpting a unique history within and around the Bow River Valley. Many of those people visited the Nose Hill itself, and its immediate surroundings.
Exposed to the drying and warming effects of the recurrent Chinook winds, Nose Hill long provided favourable wintering grounds for bison herds which, in turn, attracted people to the hill's grassy slopes. The park today contains numerous tipi rings - circles of stone once used to weigh down the conical-shaped skin dwellings of plains bison hunters. Also within the perimeters of today's park are ancient tool-making stations, a stone cairn, and evidence of bison kills conducted long ago. In 1900, one Euro-Canadian settler in the Nose Hill area described the archaeological residue below the cliffs of the coulee by McPherson Creek as a bone bed nine feet thick and an acre in extent. Establishing the tribal identities of all the people who left archaeological evidence on and around Nose Hill is virtually impossible. Most of the more recent sites, however, probably belonged to the Peigan, who dominated the territory in the vicinity of the Bow Valley when the Europeans first appeared.
Explorer and Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) trader David Thompson wintered at a Peigan encampment on the Bow River in 1787/8, and in 1800 returned to the area as a North-West Company employee. In his journal for the year, Thompson made specific note of Nose Hill. Eight years earlier, another well-known trader, HBC man Peter Fidler, also recorded an excursion to the hill with Peigan guides. The details of Fidler's journal entry illustrate well how dramatically the region's warm Chinook winds can affect the cold temperatures that characterize winters in southern Alberta. The temperature on the December day of Fidler's visit to Nose Hill was a balmy 14 degrees Celsius (58 degrees Fahrenheit).
John and George McDougall, Methodist missionaries, experienced more typical winter weather when they traveled to Nose Hill to hunt bison some four decades later. En route back to their hunting camp on the bitterly cold night of January 24, 1876, the elder McDougall, George, lost his way. A savage snowstorm delayed efforts to locate the missing man. On February 6, a search party finally discovered McDougall's frozen body on the east side of Nose Creek.
Names currently associated with topographical features in and near Nose Hill Park reflect the impact of the European newcomers and European trade goods on the Peigan. For example, Spy Hill, the westward extension of Nose Hill, derived its present name from the aboriginal practice of communicating with distant colleagues by flashing European trade mirrors from elevated locations. Other effects of the Europeans' arrival were more insidious. The six bison that the Methodist missionaries shot during their ill-fated hunting excursion were mere remnants of southern Alberta's once vast buffalo population. By 1879, the bison herds had vanished from Nose Hill. A new chapter of local history had begun. A fledgling Euro-Canadian community, Fort Calgary, had appeared in the valley beneath Nose Hill.
The area around Nose Hill itself played a significant economic role in Calgary's subsequent physical transformation from police fort to prairie city. Much of the sandstone used to construct the imposing public buildings that became Calgary's hallmark after 1886 came from quarries local entrepreneurs operated on Nose Creek. Stone from the J A Lewis quarry provided the entrance to the Imperial Bank and part of the new city hall erected in 1909. Masons used materials carted into the city from Nose Creek to build James Short School and Calgary's old courthouse as well.
During the construction "boom" years prior to World War I, Nose Creek also made a significant contribution to less reputable facets of the young city's economy. Bordellos built along the banks of the creek helped sustain the local prostitution trade, and further Calgary's growing notoriety as "... the booze, brothel and gambling capital of the far western plains." (James Gray, Red Lights on the Prairies, 1971, p. 125.) Business at the brothels flourished until World War I, when competing downtown facilities that operated near the city's saloons and new army barracks diverted attention away from the less accessible Nose Hill and Nose Creek district.
In the fall of 1896, a young Blackfoot man, Running Weasel, died south of the Bow River. His final request provides eloquent testimony to Nose Hill's enduring role as a sentinel presiding over the passage of time. At his death, Running Weasel asked that he be " ... put where he could see the great city [of Calgary] grow beneath his feet." (Calgary Herald, March 11, 1897). His well-known friend Deerfoot placed his coffin beside Nose Creek.
Return to Kootisaw: Calgary before 1875