Discovering Fort Macleod, Alberta: A Historical and Cultural Gem
Fort Macleod, Alberta, is a charming town nestled in southern Canada. Originally named Macleod, the town was founded around the North-West Mounted Police barracks, also known as Fort Macleod, in 1874. The fort was named in honour of Colonel James Macleod, the then Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police. The town's name was officially changed to Fort Macleod in 1952, reflecting the name already commonly used by its residents.
The Rich History of Fort Macleod, Alberta
The fort was initially built as a 70 by 70 metres square on October 18, 1874. The men's quarters were located on the east side, while the Mounties' quarters were on the west side. The south end housed buildings such as hospitals, stores, and guardrooms, while the north end contained stables and the blacksmith's shop.
Fort Macleod grew around the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) Barracks, which became the second headquarters of the NWMP after Fort Livingstone was abandoned in 1876. The town was originally established on a peninsula along the Oldman River, then moved to its current location in 1884. The Museum of the North-West Mounted Police is a notable attraction in Fort Macleod.
The town experienced significant growth once agricultural settlement and the railway arrived in the region. It became a divisional point for the Canadian Pacific Railway, and frontier wood construction began to be replaced by brick and sandstone. However, a fire in 1906 devastated the downtown area, destroying most of the wooden buildings. From 1906 to 1912, Fort Macleod experienced its greatest period of growth, with new brick and stone buildings replacing the destroyed wooden ones.
Unfortunately, in 1912, the Canadian Pacific Railway moved the divisional point and 200 jobs to Lethbridge, severely impacting the local economy. Fort Macleod's growth stagnated, and the town was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1924. The town's economy remained stagnant until the 1970s, with the buildings from the turn-of-the-century remaining untouched.
In 1978, Alberta Culture began to inventory the downtown buildings, and in 1982, the downtown area became Alberta's first "Provincial Historic Area". Heritage Canada also started a Main Street Restoration Project in 1982, aiming to preserve the sandstone and brick buildings, some dating back to 1878.
Demographics of Fort Macleod, Alberta
According to the 2021 Census of Population conducted by Statistics Canada, Fort Macleod had a population of 3,297 living in 1,342 of its 1,440 total private dwellings, a change of 11.1% from its 2016 population of 2,967. With a land area of 22.54 km2, it had a population density of 146.3/km2 in 2021.
Exploring the Geography of Fort Macleod, Alberta
Fort Macleod is located in the Municipal District of Willow Creek No. 26, at the intersection of Highway 2 and Highway 3, on the Oldman River. It lies west of the larger community of Lethbridge, near the reserves of the Peigan and Kainai First Nations. It is also located close to the Waterton Lakes National Park.
The town is located 8 kilometres north of the McBride Lake Wind Farm, one of the largest wind farms in Alberta. The wind farm has a capacity of 75 megawatts of electricity.
Climate of Fort Macleod, Alberta
Fort Macleod experiences a humid continental climate. The community enjoys frequent breaks from cold spells in winter when the Chinook wind blows down-slope from the Rocky Mountains. The highest temperature ever recorded at Fort Macleod was 102 °F on 7 July 1896, 18 July 1910, and 17 July 1919. The coldest temperature ever recorded was −49 °F on 2 February 1905, 17 December 1924, and 28 January 1929.
Fort Macleod, Alberta in Film
Fort Macleod has been a popular filming location for several notable films. The 2005 romantic drama film Brokeback Mountain was filmed in part in Fort Macleod. The town's historic downtown also served as a stand-in for Calgary circa 1915 in the film Passchendaele. Scenes from Christopher Nolan's 2014 film Interstellar and Francesco Lucente's motion picture drama Badland were also filmed in Fort Macleod. The downtown historic buildings were also used in the 2021 film Ghostbusters: Afterlife and the 2023 TV Series The Last of Us.