Calgary & Southern Alberta
First Nations Reservations
The Applied History Research Group
In 1869, Montana authorities began stamping out the illicit sale of liquor. Two enterprising whisky traders, John Healy and Alfred Hamilton, responded by relocating in southern Alberta, beyond American jurisdiction. The region attracted the men for other reasons as well. It supported a large Native population that traded buffalo robes for alcohol. Moreover, the region did not yet have an effective legal authority to impede the trade. Healy and Hamilton established Fort Hamilton, a small trading post, only twenty kilometres from present-day Lethbridge. The major business of Fort Whoop-Up, as it came to be called, was selling whisky. Over the next several years, numerous other whisky posts sprang up throughout the region, along what became known as the Whoop-Up Trail. One such fort was erected on the Elbow River within the present limits of Calgary.
The traffic in whisky had disastrous consequences for Native people, ripping apart First Nations societies. Moreover, the illicit trade was a serious impediment to the government's settlement plans, which depended on order and stability. The federal government was aware of the growing problems associated with the illegal posts. Eradicating the whisky trade was, therefore, one of the crucial responsibilities assigned to the newly created North-West Mounted Police.
First Whiskey Spilled, 1874. Watercolour on paper by Richard Barrington Nevitt. Courtesy of the Glenbow Collection
Once Canadian law enforcement was established in Alberta, the whisky traders again found their business in jeopardy. Some traders were arrested by the police. Most, however, either moved on to places where their trade could proceed unencumbered, or changed their occupation. Former whisky trader D. W. Davis, for example, helped the NWMP build Fort Macleod. He also managed the Calgary outlet of a major American merchandising firm, I. G. Baker. In addition, he became a rancher. Davis was a vocal advocate for ranching interests in Ottawa, where he sat as a Member of Parliament from 1887 to 1896, and in Calgary, where he became part-owner of the voice of the cattlemen, the Calgary Herald.
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