Calgary at a Crossroads

When we Calgarians think of horses, we're likely to think of the Stampede. But horses have a much longer history in our city. They helped build this place we call home, from the moment the N.W.M.P. rode up to the Bow back in 1875.

Horses trotted down our dirt streets as personal transport, fire trucks, hearses, delivery vans, meter readers, grading machines, military vehicles, and members of the family. Here are some horses from Calgary's past. 

Horse drive

Cowboy with his horse, 1890

Horses in Calgary's early history were often brought in from British Columbia and later Montana. They were driven here in herds, sometimes as many as 500 at a time.  

Early steeds

Man with his saddle horse, 1890

Man with his saddle horse,1890.

'Fashionable women'

Francis Wood, 1897

The fashionable women around town also took the reins for themselves in Calgary's early days. Francis Wood was married to a N.W.M.P. officer stationed here, and she lived at the barracks. Her horse was named Punch, and she drove what she called, "the applecart."

Fire department

Horse-drawn “Ladder” from Calgary's Fire hall #1, 1898

Calgary didn't have a motorized fire truck until 1910. Before that, horse-drawn vehicles responded to emergency calls. The ladders they drew could reach a remarkable 23 metres (75 feet) into the air.


Calgary horse race, 1900

Calgary horse race, circa 1900.

Early jumping

Horse jumping in Calgary, 1900

Calgary is now famously home to Spruce Meadows and its internationally renowned jumping competitions, but well over a hundred years ago, some Calgarians were getting into the game early.

Long commutes

Fred Jarvis and his buggy. c. 1900

Fred Jarvis, an early settler, used his horse to get from the far flung community of Forest Lawn down into the bustling town of Calgary.

First Nations

First Nations family c. 1900

First Nations family, circa 1900.

Milk deliveries

Calgary milk delivery, c. 1905

A common sight on Calgary streets, cars eventually replaced horses for daily milk delivery until the whole thing fell out of fashion. But the Union Milk Company of Calgary still delivered by horse until the 1940s. 

Side saddle

Elsie Millar c. 1904

Elsie Millar is riding side saddle, with both legs on one side of her horse. It was often considered immodest for a woman to straddle a horse. Millar rode horses a good deal of her life, and even competed in equestrian events as far away as Vancouver.


James Abel

James Abel and his family used to ride into Calgary from the outlying community of Bowness.


Robert C. Thomas and his famiy.  c. 1910

Even in the dead of winter, early Calgarians needed to get around town. Robert C. Thomas — owner of the Wales Hotel — and his family made use of a horse-drawn sleigh. Their horse's name was Sally.

Road work

An early Calgary grading machine, c. 1910

Calgary's dirt roads were as tough to keep up then, as now. Horses were used as graders to level the dirt streets. Tough work, but efficient before pavement.

Gas man

Meter Reader.  c. 1912

This is the very first "meter rig" in Calgary. A horse-drawn cart for the Calgary Gas Company.

Big Four

A delivery cart for Pat Burns & Company

Patrick Burns was one of Calgary's earliest entrepreneurs, and one of the "Big Four" that started the Calgary Stampede. At one point he owned four separate ranches with over 1,500 horses. This was a delivery cart for Pat Burns & Company that plied the streets around 1914.

Death and horses

An early Calgary hearse

An early Calgary hearse. Funeral carriage for Jacques Funeral Home, circa 1916.

The military

Colonel Robert Belcher

Colonel Robert Belcher and his horse at the Sarcee military grounds (now Westhills) in 1916. Born in London, Belcher came to Calgary in 1875 as a member of the N.W.M.P. He later served in the Lord Strathcona's horse regiment in the Boer War, and later in the First World War.

Calgary at a Crossroads is CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.