Fort Macleod's Main Street
Fort Macleod was the first outpost of the North West Mounted Police in Western Canada, established in 1874 on an island 2 miles downriver from the present townsite. Flooding problems at this location necessitated a move to higher ground, and in 1884 the entire police barracks and inhabitants of the fledgling village relocated to a core area along today's 24th Street (Main Street) between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.
Initially, commercial structures were constructed of log with plank boomtown fronts, then in the late 1880's of sawn lumber from the Maclaren Saw Mill. Fort Macleod was the hub of Southern Alberta's ranching industry, and a flourishing trade developed to serve the needs of the ranchers, the police barracks, and the neighbouring Blood and Peigan Reserves. Bull or ox trains and stage coach provided north-south transportation from Fort Benton, Montana on the Missouri River. Then in 1897, when the Canadian Pacific Railway completed construction of its Crowsnest line, Fort Macleod's trade was oriented to the east-west Transcontinental C.P.R. system.
The town continued to be a service centre for regional ranchers, but the railway building boom brought in new capital, and when the C.P.R. designated Macleod as a divisional point, the town's economy became largely dependent on the railway. New businesses were established along Main Street. The Post Office building (1897), Chinese Laundry, Reach Warehouse and Midnight News (latter 1890's) represent the end of the boomtown era, while the Cowdry Bank (1900), Grier Block (1909) Queen's Hotel (1903), Union Bank (1902), Court House (1902), and Young's Drug Store (1903), reflect Macleod's increased growth stimulated by the railway.
The first commercial brick structure appeared on the town's main street in 1899, and the first sandstone building, the Queen's Hotel, was completed in 1903. The fire of 1906 which destroyed the Reach Store, prompted the Town passing a by-law in 1907 which restricted all new construction in the downtown to either sandstone or brick construction. This legislation and the subsequent building boom have left a legacy of in what is now the Fort Macleod Provincial Historic Area.
Two brickyards were operating at this time and a number of Scottish stonemasons moved to the town, some having worked on constructing stone buildings in Calgary. Sandstone was transported from the Porcupine Hills for the Queen's Hotel, and in 1906 a quarry employing over 60 men began operating at Monarch, 15 miles east of town. The Monarch quarry furnished stone for the MacDonnell Buildings, Andrews Hardware, Anderton Block, Reach's Store, Williams Clothing, 41 Meats, Horseshoe Liquor Store, Great West Saddlery, and McNeil-Mathews Block. From 1906 - 1912 Fort Macleod enjoyed its most prosperous years. The community was promoted as the business hub of southern Alberta, and competed effectively with Calgary and Lethbridge.
Relations between the Fort Macleod town fathers and the C.P.R. had never been amicable, and by 1912 the rail corporation had relocated the majority of its employees to Lethbridge, designating that city as the regional divisional point. The town lost 200 jobs over that issue.
The outbreak of the First World War marked the beginnings of an economic depression that affected Fort Macleod literally through the 1920's to the early 1970's. In 1924 the town was forced to declare bankruptcy and the Alberta Government provided a loan to the municipality with the stipulation that no debt for capital expenditures could be incurred by the town for a 50-year period. Fort Macleod experienced a no-growth situation until 1974, and growth since then has been very gradual. Ironically, the Main Street building stock probably benefited from this situation. Investors shied away from Fort Macleod, no new construction occurred and the existing buildings have been recycled over the years.
Historic District - Main Street Project History
During the summer of 1978, Alberta Culture - Historic Sites Service conducted an inventory of Fort Macleod's pre-1925 buildings. Four hundred structures were recorded. In particular, the department regarded the downtown core as having a good stock of brick and sandstone structures with a high percentage of original fabric intact in several commercial buildings.
During the winter of 1980-81 Gateway Consultants of Calgary conducted a study of the old commercial core. They produced a working concept document which addressed the issue of designating that portion of the downtown as a Provincial Historic Area under the Alberta Historical Resources Act. A committee was formed comprised of representatives of the Municipal and Provincial Governments, the town business community, the regional planning commission and the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation. Their mandate was to examine ways and means of revising and implementing the Historic Area concept plan. A series of public meetings was conducted during the autumn and winter of 1981-82 and ultimately in March '82, the town council moved that the plan be adopted and submitted to the Alberta Legislature as an Order-in-Council. The plan was ratified, a Historic Area created, design guidelines implemented for buildings within the area, and a revolving fund set up to provide seed money for building revitalization. The Heritage Canada Main Street Program then provided their experience from other Canadian communities in working with small town revitalization.