A prince’s visit to the Foothills in 1919 was the talk of the town, and it's creating excitement again a century later.
The Bar U Ranch National Historical Site is commemorating the Sept. 15, 1919 visit of Edward, Prince of Wales, to the Foothills during his post-war tour of Canada.
The Prince arrived at High River via CP Rail at 4:45 p.m. before leaving in a motorcade with local rancher George Lane to the Bar U Ranch, prompting the prince’s purchase of neighbouring Bedingfeld Ranch, which he named EP Ranch.
“If royalty drops by for a visit today it causes quite a sensation, imagine 100 years ago,” said Mike McLean, acting site manager at the Bar U Ranch. “It really brought the community together, put this place on the world map, so much so that Hearst Newspapers reporter Fraser Hunt bought a neighbouring ranch so he cold write columns on the prince.”
The Bar U is celebrating the occasion on Sept. 15 with a documentation of the Prince of Wales' visit and purchase of the EP Ranch, which he kept until 1962, in its visitor centre complete with historical photographs, a timeline and artifacts.
Outside, a tractor hayride will leave the Bar U at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for a tour of the prince’s former second home — now a provincial designated historic site — owned by the Bartlett family. The ride will be 30 minutes each way with a 90-minute tour of the ranch, with space for 30 people per ride on a first come first served basis.
McLean said when the prince owned the ranch he spent a lot of time in the saddle.
“He really enjoyed equestrian activities and animals and he brought all sorts of purebred livestock to Canada,” said McLean. “Local ranchers had access to pedigrees they wouldn’t have had access to like shorthorn cattle, Hackney horses… that were really enriching their gene pool in this area.”
McLean said Lane made the Bar U famous with its Percheron draft horses and large cattle ranch, and suspects Lane had met the prince during his travels in Canada and convinced him to visit the Bar U.
The prince’s interest in the west brought tourists, explorers and settlers to the area, said McLean.
“It was really great promotion for this area,” he said. “It was quite a unique thing, a member of the British royal family buying land outside of the UK. That was possibly one of the only times that it actually happened.”
McLean said his dad, Roy McLean, told of seeing the prince on his visit. He was just 10 at the time.
“My father remembers being a young boy at the Pekisko store and the prince coming in and dad peaking around the pot-bellied stove to get a glimpse of the Duke of Windsor at that time,” he said. “You’ve got this brilliant young man who is traveling around the commonwealth nations to say, ‘Well done, we’ve got through this war.’ It’s just an event that made everybody feel like maybe all that sacrifice was worth it.”
The Museum of the Highwood in High River has plenty of details about that fateful Monday visit.
“It was a huge deal,” said Irene Kerr, museum director and curator. “He was like a rock star because it was after the First World War. He was the Prince of Wales and the future king of the commonwealth in England and back then the commonwealth was a big deal.
“He was young and very handsome. He was like a fairy tale prince.”
High River citizens put a huge effort into greeting the prince in style – decorating town shops, dressing in their Sunday best and preparing bands and songs by school children.
The prince was lifting spirits after the war.
He spoke to veterans during his High River visit, heard patriotic and British songs sung by children from schools around the area, made a short speech and planted a spruce tree near the railway station.
“It’s a little touch of irony because they spent months getting ready for this… and his total time in High River with all that hoopla was like 15 minutes,” said Kerr.
Kerr said the prince was eager to get to the Bar U. Staff even got electric lighting set up in the buildings for his visit, but before the prince arrived the power went out and they ate dinner by candlelight.
That didn’t impact the prince's impression of the Bar U.
“I found this letter he wrote to George and Elizabeth Lane from Fernie thanking them and saying how much he really enjoyed being there,” she said. “He obviously fell in love with the ranching style of life and the country. He immediately put in motion the wheels to buy the (Bedingfeld) ranch. It did amazing things for ranching here and the economy.”
To commemorate the prince's High River visit, Museum of the Highwood staff and volunteers have an exhibit on display and will host high tea at 1 p.m. on Sept. 15. A group of residents are also preparing a reenactment of the prince’s visit beside the museum starting at 4:45 p.m.