Putting Down Roots – History of Bragg Creek

fire lookout

The fire lookout on top of Moose Mountain

Now heavily forested with spruce, pine, fir, aspen and poplar, Bragg Creek was open meadow and flats when the first settlers arrived about 1885. Fire stripped the trees from the land making it attractive for settlers like Albert Warren Bragg, after whom the area was named. He lived on what is now Saddle & Sirloin ranch in 1894 when A.O. Wheeler surveyed the area, but he, like others, moved on when he discovered that early frosts and snowy winters left little food for their livestock. One man lamented that he could not feed his family on scenery. Marilyn Bragg Symons submitted this personal anecdote in Sept. 1999 . . . Bragg Creek was named for my great uncle Albert Warren Bragg AND my grandfather John Thomas Bragg. What has never been told was that Uncle Warren was about 17 at the time and Grandpa John was 12 in 1894. I think that makes the story much more interesting. A kind of Canadian Tom and Huck adventure. The boys had run away from their home in Oxford Junction, Nova Scotia over a disagreement with their new (and very young) step-mother. The boys had made application to prove a homestead – they were not squatters. They left because they got homesick not because of the bad weather. However, both boys soon returned to Alberta and ranched, Uncle Warren at Rosebud and Grandpa John at Rockyford. The sight of the old homestead is just north of the main road that runs through Saddle & Sirloin, on the east bank of the Bragg Creek.

Sam Livingston, a pioneer of the California and Caribou gold rushes, lived on Saddle & Sirloin as well. A descendant of his, named Daniel, watched for forest fires around Bragg Creek from his perch on top of Moose Mountain for many years. Several of the ranches in the area are tended by families of the first settlers, but most residents are recent arrivals, living on acreages which range in size from 2 to 20 acres. Many commute to work in the city or offer goods or services to visitors who have come to enjoy this special place.

The one room school house

sugar shack

The first school still stands

The first school, built in 1914, was located along West Bragg Creek Road at Range Rd. 52, which was the most central location at the time. The white frame, one-room schoolhouse served students in grades one through eight. The “Two Pines School” was built in 1931 along highway 762 to accommodate children who lived in South Bragg Creek. A teacher’s residence was built nearby in 1938. That building now serves as the skating shack next to the community centre. The Dawson Hill school was also moved to the community centre where it is now the ECS kindergarten. A new school called Banded Peak opened in 1997. It serves local elementary students who had been travelling to Springbank since the Second World War.

Getting Down to Business

trading post

The Trading Post on White Avenue

The first post-office was established by Bill Graham in West Bragg Creek. Harry and Ida-May White took over the post office in 1918 as a part of their general store. The Whites carried the mail, except for a few years, until WWII. The Whites acquired the northeast quarter of Section 12 in Township 23 Range 5 in 1921. The Elbow River ran through their homestead which they cleared and helped to develop into the hamlet of Bragg Creek. Harry died in 1925, but Ida-May owned and operated the store, which boasted the first gasoline pump, until her death in 1953. Her home called the Wake Siah Lodge is next to the store, now the Ice Cream Counter. It was leased to Jack Elsdon in 1932. Eight years later he moved to the Trading Post which he passed on to his daughter Barbara.

A building boom around 1922

Jake Fullerton built quite a few homes and stores in the 1920s. The original Trading Post on White Avenue was one. He built another couple of stores nearby as well. At the time most of the commercial development was located near the point where the Bragg Creek joined the Elbow River, across from the Trading Post. He also built a home, currently owned by Bruce Finnigan, on the hill opposite the Elbow River between the Trading Post and the Provincial Park. Mr. Finnigan, as a history buff, has kept the building in its original condition to the extent possible. Many of the other Fullerton buildings have been updated and modified. Some of them were destroyed in the 1932 flood.

finnigan side finnigan front trading post
Finnigan (side view)
Finnigan (front)
Trading Post

Hardy souls, Hard work & Hard times

post office barn

Post Office barn built in 1914

dance hall

The old dance hall by the Elbow River

The first church in southern Alberta, the “Our Lady of Peace Mission,” was built about 1872. A cairn now marks the location, east of highway 22 on township road 242 north of the Elbow River. Bragg Creek did not have a church of its own during the early settlement. Travelling ministers would hold occasional services in private homes or the school.The community began in West Bragg Creek near the Saddle and Sirloin ranch where the first post office was built in 1914. Mail was carried on horseback along the “stoney trail.” The barn, built to shelter the horses, still stands beside Bragg Creek. Development soon moved to the southern shore of the Elbow River as settlers discovered the devastating effects of spring floods. The first bridge, built in 1913, spanned the Elbow just upstream from the confluence with Bragg Creek. That bridge lasted a couple of years. Its replacement washed out in 1916. Heavy timbers and rock-filled piers were used to build a third bridge which withstood the fury of the spring flood until 1932. That flood took out the bridge, two stores and caused one death as it inundated the area and gouged out the river bank around the Trading Post. It left a huge boulder at the entrance to the store. That rock, weighting about a ton, disappeared in the flood of 2013. A steel bridge anchored in solid rock, downstream, near where the bridge is now, withstood floods in 1948 and 1963. It was replaced by the present concrete bridge in 1983. Concrete piers downstream from the bridge supported a temporary bridge during construction. A wooden swing bridge spanned the river between the Trading Post and the round dance hall when Elsdon ran the store.

Foothills & Forests

The Forestry Reserve became Kananaskis Country (K-Country) in 1976. It is a multi-use recreation area where activities such as logging, ranching, and natural gas extraction are also carried out. The area includes about 4,000 square kilometres of the front-range of the Rocky Mountains. The foothills are the wrinkles of sandstone and shale rock that blend into the interior plain. The original reserve was surveyed in 1909. Major fires occurred in 1910 and 1919. In 1929 a fire lookout was installed on the rocky peak of Moose Mountain. A road to the summit allowed the construction of a new station in 1950. The current lookout was built in 1974. Access to Elbow valley via a rutted dirt track kept activity there to a minimum. That changed in the 1980s when the modern highway 66 was built.

In 1881 the Marquis of Lorne, The Governor General of Canada at the time, visited the Elbow valley and sketched the Mount Glasgow-Banded Peak group. The sketch was made into an etching by Edward Whymper. Alberta is named after his wife, princess Louise Alberta.

Coal, Oil & Gas

Dr. George Ings prospected this area in the 1890s. He mined a thousand tons of coal at the base of Moose Mountain along Canyon Creek near the ice cave. The “Mowbray-Berkeley” oil well was drilled on the banks of the Elbow River in the provincial park during 1913. The well operated for three years, powered by coal from Ings’ mine. WWI cut off the funding and it was closed. Another well, drilled in West Bragg Creek on the way to Jumping Pound, floundered under financial stress. Gas spewing from spring streams fueled expectation that oil would be nearby, but none made it to market. The Elbow Oil Company tried again in 1928 near the junction of highways 66 and 758. During the 30s Herron Petroleum drilled a well near the Elbow Ranger Station and Moose Dome Oils sunk two wells in 1927 and 1935, several miles up Canyon Creek inside the Forestry Reserve. Both developments were fueled by their own natural gas. More wells were drilled over the years, but it was not until Shell built a pumping station on Moose Mountain in 1985 that gas was pumped out to Esso’s Quirk Creek gas plant (purchased by Pengrowth Energy in 2012).

Work & War Camps

Unemployed men spent the winter of 1931-32 cutting trees for a fire guard along the Forestry boundary. They lived in tent camps near Bragg Creek.

German prisoners of war camped along the Kananaskis Trail (hwy. 40) during WWII. The beauty of the area enticed them to stay and we assume that some settled here.

First Canadian Youth Hostel

A temporary camp erected at the confluence of Bragg Creek and the Elbow River on July 1, 1933 was the first Youth Hostel in North America. It was a 12 by 14 foot tent set up by Mary and Catherine Barclay. In 1936 a wooden cabin with a dining room and two sleeping rooms was built 3 kilometres north on the way to Wintergreen, on Tom Fullerton’s ranch. The hostel was later rebuilt inside the Kananaskis Country entrance at West Bragg Creek, but it burned down in 1984 and was not replaced.

Bragg Creek is designated a historically significant site in 2012

This is THE book on the history of Bragg Creek

Our Foothills

Millarville, Kew, Priddis and Bragg Creek Historical Society
c/o Mrs. K. Tosh