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Bow Fort

At the junction of the Bow River and Old Fort Creek, 75 kilometres west of Calgary on the Morley Native Reserve, a 35-metre high bluff offers visitors one of the most spectacular viewscapes of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. As visitors look west, curious piles of stones lay directly behind them in a field. Looking closer, there are about a dozen manmade holes running parallel along the bluff’s edge. They are partly grown over and about three metres apart. A walk through the field uncovers further curiosities.

A short broken post pokes forlornly out of the short grass. One pile of stones sits in the middle of a faint five by four metre square dirt foundation. The curious set of stones are actually the work of a University of Calgary archeological dig more than 30 years ago. At this site, researchers examined the remains of what is now known as Bow Fort, built almost 170 years ago, a post of the North West Company and constructed by famed explorer and fur trader David Thompson. It is the only known North West Company post in southern Alberta and only the third in all Alberta, along with Rocky Mountain House, the doorway to Big West Country, and Fort Edmonton.

A lone post sticks out of the former site A lone post from the pioneer fort sticks out of the short grass on the former site.
Bow Fort Stone Field
© Johnnie Bachusky
© Johnnie Bachusky
Piles of stones litter the former site of Bow Fort.

The most reliable research data places the construction of the five-sided stockaded post at 1833, and that it was occupied for less than a year, abandoned in favor of Rocky Mountain House. Historians remain perplexed why a fort of such extensive size was left permanently in such a short time.

Bow Fort stone pile believed to remnant of fort's chimney
Bow Fort Stones
Historians, further believe it was completely burned down by natives four decades later. However, archeologists and historians, without the aid of any contemporary records, have been able to discern there were at least 11 chimneys servicing the fort. May of the stones at the site are believed to be from the chimneys, extensively unearthed by researchers 30 years ago.
© Johnnie Bachusky
© Johnnie Bachusky
The stone piles are believed to be the remnants of the fort’s chimneys.
Archeologists believe there may have been up to 11 chimneys at the fort.

It is further believed the fort had an Indian Hall, built either outside the main fort or at the south-eastern corner to allow natives to fur trade while restricting access to the post. At the south-west corner of the fort, researchers found evidence of a block house bastion, where post occupants could have a better vantage point against intruders climbing the bluff from below. The findings of the 1969 archeological dig have been stored for safekeeping in Calgary.

Bow Fort Stone Pile-Wider View
Bow Fort River View
Right: A pile of stones rests atop a faint raised outline of what appears to be a rectangular foundation.
© Johnnie Bachusky
The fort’s western wall was near this point, offering pioneer fur traders magnificent viewscapes.
© Johnnie Bachusky

There are are no memorials or plaques at the site detailing its historical significance. Furthermore, there is no public access to the remains of Bow Fort. The site is about five kilometres off a main highway on the Morley Reserve and visitors are advised to seek permission from the band to go onto the site. The property is considered sacred spiritual land to the native people and digging or removing any remaining artifacts is strictly forbidden.