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The Leavings at Willow Creek


Other Names:
1884 N. W. M. P. Barn
1884 N.W.M.P. Barn
N. W. M. P. Barn
N.W.M.P. Barn
North West Mounted Police Barn
Northwest Mounted Police Post (1884)
Oxley Ban Barn
Oxley Ranch Site
The Leavings (Oxley Ranch)

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Leavings at Willow Creek site consists of a one and one-half storey log house, log and sandstone barn, log stable, and such landscape elements as a well, plantings, and cart trails, as well as various archaeological resources. The site occupies 30.1 hectares near Claresholm, Alberta.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Leavings (Oxley Ranch) lies in its representation of early ranching activity in southern Alberta. In addition, the Leavings is significant for its association with the Fort Macleod-Calgary Trail, the major north-south thoroughfare prior to the Calgary and Edmonton Railway in 1892, and with the establishment of law and order in the region through the North West Mounted Police (NWMP). The site thus provides rare structural evidence of initiatives by the Canadian government to secure the West from American encroachment after Confederation: the granting of large-scale ranch leases to British-Canadian investors, and the creation of a federal police force.

The term "Leavings" indicated a place where a trail "left" a water supply, where travelers could obtain supplies of water and wood. After Fort Calgary was established in 1875 there were regular supply ("bull") trains and stagecoaches from Fort Benton in Montana to Fort Macleod and on to Calgary. The Leavings was one of four spots between Fort Macleod and Calgary frequently chosen as a camping ground. Sometime in the later half of the 1870s, a stopping house, operated by a former buffalo hunter and whiskey trader, Henry Kountz, began operating. Kountz's cabin was likely located to the south of the present site location, but it is possible that the building was moved and forms part of the house on this site. Visible ruts on the hills overlooking the creek are likely remnants of the original wagon trail.

In 1882, the New Oxley Ranch secured a lease for 200,000 acres from the Dominion Government, making it one of the four largest ranches in the foothills region. In 1882, the ranch's first manager, J.R. Craig, purchased the stopping house. The cabin was then used as the ranch's headquarters. By 1885, it appears that the location of the ranch headquarters had moved to this site and Craig had built the larger log house and the barn. The house is covered with siding with the exception of the back portion, which may be the original Kountz cabin. The house was used as a dwelling by Craig and his family, as well as a stopping house and as the ranch's managerial office. It also became a centre for social activities and, in 1884, a post office. The barn is constructed into a hillside and has a connecting stable. The barn's first storey is constructed of sandstone, with the upper storey and loft being of logs and vertical planks. The floor of the stable is made of vertical posts, which gives it a cobblestone effect. There are many etchings on the interior sandstone, including two inscriptions of '1884' and numerous others that resemble cattle brands and other dates. In a dispute with ranch financiers, Craig left the ranch in 1886, but retained ownership of the property. At this point the ranch headquarters moved to a new location and Craig continued to operate the post office and stopping house. He had hoped to homestead the area, but eventually lost control of the buildings as a result of a legal suit.

From 1886 until 1903 the North West Mounted Police took advantage of the important location of the Leavings by manning an outpost from the site, sending patrols north and west through the Porcupine Hills. During this period, the NMWP rented the house and barn. After the completion of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway, however, traffic on the trail declined and the garrison moved to Claresholm. The grazing lease expired in 1906, at which point the Leavings became part of a homestead.

The house and stable at the Leavings (Oxley Ranch) are among the oldest structures extant in southern Alberta, and rare surviving evidence of a NWMP outpost.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 1832)

Character-Defining Elements
The heritage value of the Leavings (Oxley Ranch) is contained in such character-defining elements as:
- form, scale and massing of the house and barn;
- remnants of the Fort McLeod-Calgary trail above the break of bank of Willow Creek;
- viewscapes west, south and north across Willow Creek and to the mountains.

Log House:
- log construction of house, using double saddle notching at corners, in L-shaped plan with a shed addition on the west elevation;
- horizontal shiplap boarding covering south elevation;
- cedar shingles on roof;
- concrete slab foundation;
- fenestration pattern;
- well.

Log and Sandstone Barn:
- log construction of barn, with sandstone blocks in foundation and walls and timber framing sheathed with vertical boards in the second-storey hayloft;
- situation: built into side of hill;
- gable roof with cedar shingles;
- stall partitions, plank flooring, posts and beams supporting loft floor above;
- fenestration pattern, one window space each of north and south walls, Dutch door;
- vertical pole paving (posts driven into floor giving cobble stone effect);
- hand-forged nails;
- remnants of whitewashed interior;
- carvings on barn walls and sandstone blocks (e.g. brands, names, dates; "1884" carved into block below north window);
- attached shed (1920s);
- electrical wiring to house and barn.

- two track depression northeast of the barn defining a trail segment, likely the remnants of the historic Calgary-McLeod trail;
- historic dump of materials along the bank of Willow Creek immediately southwest and east of a structure identified as a chicken coop.


Street Address:
Community: Claresholm
Boundaries: Portion of the east half of Section 14, Township 13, Range 28, West of the Fourth Meridian.
Contributing Resources: Archaeological Site/Remainss: 2
Buildings: 3
Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s): 3

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
15 (ptn.)
16 (ptn.)
8 (ptn.)
9 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
50.089922 -113.713931 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2006/11/17

Historical Information

Built: 1875 to 1882
Significant Date(s) 1886 to 1903
Theme(s) Developing Economies : Extraction and Production
Governing Canada : Security and Law
Historic Function(s): Food Supply : Farm or Ranch
Government : Police Station
Transport - Land : Traditional Trail or Trading Route
Current Function(s): Food Supply : Farm or Ranch

When the Montana cattle industry began to thrive in the aftermath of the American civil war, and the railways extended their lines to the western states, many cattle barons began to expand their activity north of the 49th Parallel. Sensitive to the encroachment of American influence in western Canada, the Dominion government took several measures to ensure the 'Canadianization' of this region. A Department of the Interior was formed to oversee developments on the central prairies, a North-west Mounted Police force was formed to establish law and order, and a Dominion Lands Act was passed to see to the orderly disposition of Crown lands to British subjects, or those who would agree to become British subjects. Plans were also put in place to extend a transcontinental railway through the region.

Another measure taken by the government to ensure the loyalty of the region to Canada was to encourage a ranching industry in the western foothills, with capital to be provided by eastern Canadian and British entrepreneurs. For such Canadian or British cattle companies, vast tracts of land would be set aside as grazing leases. By the early 1880's, much of the southern foothills of what was to become Alberta was therefore given over to a few major cattle companies, including the Cochrane, Winder, Walrond, Northwest, Quorn, Stewart and Stinson Ranches. Their success depended to a great extent on the arrival of the CPR, which reached the site of Fort Calgary in 1883.

Another major ranching operation was founded in 1882 by Alexander Staveley Hill, a Conservative Member of the British House of Commons, backed by Lord Lathan. This was the Oxley Ranch, which came to base its operation on two vast tracts in the districts of present day Champion and Staveley, north of Fort Macleod. This ranch flourished throughout most of the 1880's and 1890's, and, during much of this time, its success appears to have been due to the efficient management of John Roderick Craig. An added benefit was the extension of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway from Calgary to Fort Macleod in 1892, which eliminated the necessity of making long cattle drives to Calgary.

By the end of the decade, however, changes were in the air. In order to provide a greater population base in western Canada, the new Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier began to curtail the predominance of many of the large ranches by not renewing the grazing leases on much of the rangeland. The idea was to encourage smaller independent farms and ranches, which would specialize in mixed farming. During the early twentieth century, many of the large ranches went out of business, while others saw their scope of operation severely curtailed, including the Oxley Ranch.

During its heyday, the western portion of the Oxley Ranch had based its operation from headquarters on NE14 TP13 R28 W4. On this site today are a log house which was, no doubt, part of the Oxley Ranch operation at some point, and possibly the home of its manager, John Craig. It is located next to a trail that extended from Fort Macleod to Calgary, but which went out of use after the E and E Railway to the east saw the center of activity also shift, when railway communities like Claresholm and Staveley emerged. Near the house is a wood frame barn on a large concrete foundation built into a hillside which could also have been part of the Oxley Ranch. The buildings are also spoken of as having been part of a North-west Mounted Police detachment, which existed in the district in the late 1880's, but was moved to Claresholm shortly after the railway came through.


The historical significance of the Oxley Ranch buildings lies in their provision of structural evidence of this ranching operation, one of the biggest in the southern Alberta foothills, prior to 1900. As such, they tell of both social and commercial activities of the ranch, and of the southern Alberta cattle industry in general during this time. The buildings are also important in being close to the original cattle trail between Fort Macleod and Calgary, which was the major thoroughfare between these two centres prior to the coming of the railway in 1892.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-1053
Designation File: DES 1832
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 54785
HS 54786
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 1832)
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