While native people probably hunted in the Bow Valley as early as 1,000 years ago, white men arrived in this region only recently. The earliest European explorers reached the foothills of the Rocky Mountains about the middle of the eighteenth century; as far as is known, the first white man to set eyes on the Bow River was David Thompson, who visited the confluence of the Bow and the Elbow in 1767. Following the explorers came a slow trickle of fur traders, and following them came the missionaries.
It was not until the 1870's that the first homesteader established a permanent farm in the Bow Valley area. The homesteader was John Glenn, an experienced farmer, trapper, and prospector, who had searched for gold in California and the Cariboo and traveled through much of the West before coming to the Bow River country. The homestead he chose - an ideal site where Fish Creek joins the Bow - "had everything a settler could desire".
It was with John Glenn that the history of Bow Valley Farm began. Glenn built a log house and barns, and cleared nine acres of land. He also set up an irrigation system, the first in Alberta - on the bottom twenty-one acres of his farm. The rich glacial silt produced good crops, up to 220 bushels of potatoes per acres. By 1879 he was comfortably established.
Patrick Burns was one of the major forces behind the growth of ranching in Alberta. He purchased large herds of purebred Hereford stock, which he used to help fellow ranchers improve the blood lines of their own cattle. A pioneer of cold-weather ranching, Burns put up 250,000 tons of hay for winter feed, and convinced other ranchers to utilize winter feeding methods themselves. He renovated the corrals and feeding pens on his ranches, and also introduced modern feed-lot techniques to finish cattle for market. Charlie Yuen continued to welcome and personally supervise the comforts of any visitor to the ranch.
Special mention should be made of Patrick Burns' interest in conservation. Recognizing the value of the trees in Fish Creek Valley, he directed his foreman to erect fences around the groves of aspen and poplar as protection from the cattle. They also planted some 2,000 poplar along the MacLeod Trail adjacent to Bow Valley Ranch.
After Patrick Burns' death in 1937, his nephew and business successor Michael John Burns came to live in Bow Valley Ranche House. Under his supervision, the ranching operation continued to prosper and he also preserved the established tradition of true western hospitality remembered by many Calgarians.
In failing health, Michael John Burns moved to Calgary in 1950, and his son Richard T. J. Burns came to live at the ranch. Under his management, many more improvements were made, including the construction of a tennis court, a swimming pool, and a one-story addition to the Ranch House. Richard T. J. Burns lived at the site until 1970. Between 1970 and 1973, The Ranche House was leased to Robert Peters, a Calgary stockbroker.
In 1973, acting on citizens' interests, the Provincial Government purchased some 1,400 acres of the Bow Valley Ranche along Fish Creek from MacLeod Trail to the Bow River, as well as other land adjacent to the Bow. On June 29, 1975, the Hon. Peter Lougheed dedicated what is now the eastern part of Fish Creek Provincial Park as "a park for all people".
In 1995, local residents, Larry and Mitzie Wasyliw recognized this pivotal landmark of Canadian history and established The Ranche At Fish Creek Restoration Society, with a mandate to restore the the Bow Valley Ranche to its original turn of the century grandeur. The Foreman's House was first restored in 1997 and The Ranche House restoration was completed in 1999. The Native Gardens, occupying the area between these two buildings was opened in 2000.
Two years earlier, in 1877, the Blackfoot Confederacy, along with the Sarcee and Stony tribes, signed a treaty with the federal government. By the terms of the agreement Treaty No. 7, as it was called - the Indians exchanged large tracts of land for cash payments and reserves of approximately one million acres. The government also agreed to teach the native people how to farm their land.
John Glenn's homestead was purchased by the government as an instructional farm, for $350, a cow and a calf. A superintendent, John Lyman, was hired to teach the Indians, and the produce grown was distributed to the Indians living on the reserves in the area. After several years the instructional program was phased out, and the government decided to re-sell the property.
The new purchasers were William Roper Hull, who later became one of Calgary's most prominent citizens, and his brother, John Roper Hull. In 1883, the Hull brothers were driving 1,200 head of horses from Kamloops via the Crowsnest Pass to Calgary. Impressed with the country, they decided to become permanent residents. First securing a contract with the Canadian Pacific Railways to be the sole suppliers of beef to the railway gangs in British Columbia, they quickly expanded their operation until they had a chain of fifteen butcher shops. Needing facilities for finishing cattle for slaughter, they offered to buy the 4,000-acre Government Supply Farm - as the Bow Valley Ranche was then called - for a rumored price of $30,000.
The Hulls made numerous improvements, including the replacement of the original log house with a two-story brick ranch house. Charlie Yuen was hired to "do odd chores and feed the crew". Under his supervision, the ranch became a showplace that welcomed many local and foreign visitors.
With the developing community, land use changed from farming to ranching. In 1902, the Hulls' farm was purchased by Patrick Burns, a leading Calgary rancher and meat-packer. Burns also acquired adjacent sections of land, as they became available. Eventually the Burns Ranch included some 20,000 acres bounded on the north by what is now Stampede Park, on the east by the Bow River, on the south by 146th Avenue, and on the west by MacLeod Trail - a large property by any standards, but only a small segment of Pat Burns' 450,000 acre ranching empire.