Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bowness Park Calgary A Deeper History



 While researching for this post, I found information to be sparse limited and spread out over many sites.  I'm not  usually in the habit of blogging on parks,  but initially,  I was going to write about river monsters in Alberta and include the river monster caught in the park.  I ended up learning a lot I didn't know myself about the history of the area. So here is a deeper history all on one site,  of both the park and Bowness .

Bowness Park,  situated in Calgary now,  was originally part of the village of Bowness, apart from Calgary in 1948.  It later became the town of Bowness in 1952 and was amalgamated into the City of Calgary in 1964.  The park is actually an island in the Bow River.

Lets go back in history first before we go any farther.  Bowness is part of the Bow Valley System and the area around Bowness Park was occupied by the Nitsitapii native tribe, later to be known as the Blackfoot.  The Nitsitapii peoples occupied the area since the end of the last ice age.  About 10,500 years ago.  It wasn't for 1000 years that the Cree and the Stony tribes appeared in the area. Other tribes followed and in the 1700's,  non native people appeared decimating the great Bison herds the natives depended on. The various tribes were offered reserves to live on by the Government that included part of their traditional hunting grounds. 

Now we can go forward. The Bowness Area was first leased by The Cochrane Ranche Company to graze cattle on in 1883.  The land was bought and sold several times after that and when John Hextall and Jasper Richardson purchased the land, they called it Bowness,  so named for a visit to the lake district in England where he visited Bowness on Windemere by john before he came to Canada.  In 1890 and 1891, a ranch house was built on the banks of the river and the barns and stables were located on the island we now know as Bowness Park.  Other than that,  the only thing there were twin bridges over the Bow River and a railroad track. John Hextall became a visionary for the area and laid ambitious plans to develop the area into an exclusive residential suburb and in effect,  laid the framework for the village and town of Bowness.

A few houses went up in 1911 but any plans were put on hold as WW1 broke out and John Hextall died later the same year.  The park itself sat vacant for ages after that until the end WW2.  After the war,  Dutch and German immigrants  began to settle into the area.  A little known fact to Calgarians is that the field beside Bowness Park was the site of Calgary's first commercial airport known as Bowness Flying Field.  At least one entrepreneur pilot was taking passengers on sightseeing flights of Banff from here.

The park was developed further after the wars. Returning veterans were offered 48 one acre plots in an area of Bowness then called Veterans Settlement. Calgary ran a streetcar right to the park and with cars being rare in the 1920's and 30's,   Bowness Park became an mecca of sorts for many early Calgarians.  Campsites and cabins were built in the park and rented by week or month. There was canoeing and boating in the lagoon, a dance pavilion was built and a fountain installed in the lagoon.  A centrally located phonograph played gentle music as people glad the troubles of war were over,  relaxed  with family.  A Merry Go Round was installed that is now at Heritage Park in Calgary.  A swimming pool was built,  picnic tables and shelters went in. To see the size of the lagoon now,  I would of never guessed that an actual ferry boat crossed back and forth in the lagoon,  but it did then,  and carried passengers from the far end of the lagoon to where the refreshment stand was so they didn't have to walk all the way around the lovers walk. the water levels were slightly higher then as this was before Bearspaw Dam upriver was built. 

Scenic Mini Railroad Bowness Park

Canal leading into the lagoon in winter

I remember a 1984 reprint in the Calgary Herald of a 1942 story about a river monster being caught in Bowness Lagoon,  but I sadly no longer have the news clipping and can't find the picture of the incident.  It did happen though. In July 1942 locals cornered and caught Ogopogo like river monster that had come into the lagoon. The attached story claimed they later cut up the creature and ate it after sharing it with anyone that wanted some.  There are always skeptics,  but River Monsters have been sighted repeatedly over the years in Alberta and it wouldn't be hard to imagine one of these creatures got into the Bow. I will continue to look for the picture and update this post with it if I find it.

West End Of Park

Skaters At Bowness Park

The cottages were removed from the park in 1946 and the pool closed in 1959.  The dance pavilion was removed in 1960.  A school and a church were built nearby in 1947.

The park is now a popular place to skate in winter on the lagoon and on the canal when the ice conditions are suitable. there's a fire pit to warm up your hands and a concession stand for hot chocolate and snacks.  In summer boat rentals are available and there are picnic tables and shelters that are always busy with picnickers. There is a playground for youngsters. There has been a mini railroad in the park in the summer for years that young kids still enjoy.  There are cycling trails that go through the park and it's popular for dog walking and playing Frisbee. The park really does offer something different and has a unique history as parks go. Residents of Bowness were known as Bownesians. Bowness Park is in N.W Calgary Alberta Canada.

Thanks for you continued support of Good Day Bad Day.

Do Have A Good Day And A Walk In The Park.

                  Jeffrey R Hilton



  1. WOW! I really enjoyed this article!

  2. I enjoyed this article so much especially as I was a resident in Bowness when it was still the Town of Bowness! I have fond memories of Bowness as a child long before Burns and Dutton laid a sidewalk over our favorite big "mud puddle"! It was a short walk to Bowness Park every sunny Saturday afternoon, and like many Bowness children, I learned how to skate there. A point of interest, I recall my father digging out the "root cellar" in our home and finding 100's of fox pellets, arrow heads, and other old artifacts related to the Native people who once dwelled in the vacinity. My father took some of those articles to City Hall and spoke with a person who told him that Bowness and especially Bowness Park was considered to be a very spiritual place acording to the Blackfoot people! Accoording to the first property description, our home sat on a Fox Ranch in the 1880's! I also remember the old Bus we took to Calgary. Wonderful article! Thank you!

    1. Thank you very much for your comments. Made my day. I am truly pleased to have evoked fond memories and you have added further information to the subject of the park, so thanks again.

      Sincerely; Jeff

  3. My brother and I were residents at Woods' Christian Home and we often went to Bowness Park. I remember some dinosaur sculptures found there and a store where we could buy candy (Macintosh toffee!). We sometimes were treated to a canoe ride too. We were in the Home for about 3 years (1946-1948). Mrs. Blackadar, the matron manager, died while we were there.

  4. Hope you find the article and pic of the monster caught. Interesting. They have discovered echo location being used by unknown animal in lake champlain. The fauna research institute found this anomoly first, they are scientists and experts in sound variation.then champ research team also recorded echo location. Possible tanystropheus or giant long necked paleo turtle. Unknown at this time.borrow dolphin ear gear and have a listen in summer.