Trails and Trials: Markets and Land Use in Alberta Beef Cattle Industry, 1881–1948


317 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55238-089-0
DDC 338.1'762'0097123





Reviewed by David W. Leonard

David W. Leonard is the project historian (Northern Alberta) in the
Historic Sites and Archives Service, Alberta Community Development. He
is the author of Delayed Frontier: The Peace River Country to 1909 and
co-author of The Lure of the Peace River Coun


When the Dominion government set vast tracts of land aside for grazing
leases in what is now southern Alberta in the 1870s, the incipient
cattle industry took heart. As the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in
1883, the region was witnessing the emergence of several large ranching
companies. The Cochrane, Oxley, Quorn, and other ranches flourished into
the 20th century. By then, however, the government was determined to
provide a greater population base by facilitating small farmers. Much
open rangeland was subdivided into quarter-sections for homesteading.
Beef production was forced to undergo a more diversified approach.

There have been many works on the subject of the great age of ranching
up to 1914. Most have emphasized the romantic myth of ranch life, Leroy
Kelly’s The Range Men (1913) being the standard. In 1983, the economic
perspective was broached by David Breen in The Canadian Prairie West and
the Ranching Frontier, 1874–1924. Other important works followed.

The general neglect of the subject in the post-1814 period has now been
rectified by Trails and Trials, a well-documented account of the
vicissitudes of the industry from the perspective of both ranchers and
mixed farmers. As the Dominion and subsequently the provincial
governments paid more attention to “King Wheat,” stockmen banded
together to present their case. As the author ably demonstrates, their
pleas often fell on deaf ears, with even the supposedly sympathetic
Minister of the Interior, James Lougheed of Calgary, refusing their plea
to extend leasehold security in 1921.

The themes of land use and marketing predominate in this book. While
the domestic economy was dominated by mixed farmers, the large ranchers
continued to hold sway over the export economy. Both markets were
volatile, however, as the factors affecting them were so unpredictable.
One constant was an ongoing feud with the federal government. When the
manuscript for this book was submitted for publication, the mad-cow
crisis would have just broken. The author must have been tempted to
withdraw it and work in a perspective for contemporary times.


Foran, Max., “Trails and Trials: Markets and Land Use in Alberta Beef Cattle Industry, 1881–1948,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 27, 2024,