My parents both grew up on farms. Always the homesteader, my dad toiled endlessly on his plot of land in suburban southeast Calgary. My childhood was filled with his stories of riding horses, milking cows, collecting eggs and living in a home with no electricity or running water.
With my strong connection to the settler lifestyle, a visit to Bar U Ranch feels like returning home. Since 1882, the Bar U has employed thousands, both human and beast, and fed hundreds of thousands more. The Sundance Kid even worked here before moving on to more lucrative pastures.
This national historic site is located on the Cowboy Trail about 13 km (8 mi) south of Longview. Stop first at the Visitor Orientation Centre and pick up a guide to explore on your own. Or join a group tour, which you can do on foot or by horse-drawn wagon. We love to poke through period buildings and observe day-to-day life on a real working ranch. Costumed interpreters bring the scene to life. My favourite is the saddle maker. Wait until you see his detailed leather tooling.
Throughout the summer Bar U holds a wagonload of events commemorating Alberta’s long history of ranching.
In early June the competition is fierce at Bar U’s Chuckwagon Cook-Off where participants vie for best beef stew and biscuits. The hitch? All of the food must be cooked over an open campfire. I can almost taste the buttery-soft savoury biscuits dipped in the rich hearty broth.
Canada Day Party
Admission to the ranch is always free on Canada Day. Expect an old-fashioned country celebration and special tribute to the Percheron horse. This tall, strong, intelligent breed was at one time part of nearly every ranching family in North America. In the early 1900s, the Bar U had the largest herd in the world.
Every year in early August the Friends of the Bar U Historic Ranch Association host a ride out to the original Bar U grazing lands. No worries if you don’t own a horse. We just grab a seat on one of the horse-drawn wagons.
Old Time Ranch Rodeo
Bar U’s biggest annual event – held the second Sunday in August – is a family favourite. At the Old Time Ranch Rodeo, we love to see the teams of working Alberta cowboys competing in events like wild cow milking and broke horse racing. The day’s winners are bestowed with bragging rights and gorgeous silver Bar U belt buckles. Come on down!