The following is an overview of the history of the Midnapore area, mostly covering first settlement in 1873 to development by The City of Calgary in 1977. It is adapted from an article I had published in the Mid-Sun Messages in February 2015, and is meant to serve as a summary of some of the subjects this site is devoted to. It is derived from many sources, formal and informal to be named at a later date, and all effort has been made to confirm the information contained within. For more detailed information on the history and development of the area, see my articles.
Local history begins with the Fish Creek Valley, formed by a series of glaciers thousands of years ago. The first people in the area were local Native groups who resided in the valley from 6500 BC up until the early 19th century. Buffalo were hunted in the valley, through the use of corrals and jumps, and the area is one of few locally where tipi rings have been preserved.
The first settlers in Fish Creek were John and Adelaide Glenn, who settled in 1873-1874. John, who had travelled all across North America, had this to say about it: “I like the climate better than any I have found between the Atlantic and the Pacific; the Rio Grande and the Peace, over all of which territory I have travelled. There is everything in the country a settler can desire.” The Glenns first lived at the confluence of Fish Creek and the Bow River, before building on what is now the site of the Bow Valley Ranche House. They finally settled upstream in 1879, just east of Macleod Trail, and developed the first irrigation project in Alberta, greatly improving crop yields.
The Shaw family, headed by Samuel and Helen Shaw, arrived from England in 1883, bringing with them the parts for a woollen mill. The mill was the first industry in the province, beginning operation in 1889 in Fish Creek, just west of Macleod Trail. Helen Shaw operated a store selling the mill’s goods on Stephen Avenue in Calgary. The family’s name is evident throughout the area, with Shawnee Slopes, Shawnessy, and Shaw Road in Midnapore; the mill, which burned down in 1917, is commemorated with the Millrise name.
The area had been named Fish Creek until 1883, when it was renamed Midnapore. The name comes from a city in India, and it is unclear how exactly the name arrived in Alberta. The most common story is that a parcel or letter destined for Midnapore, India was misdelivered to Fish Creek. The literate Sam Shaw received it and named the area, becoming postmaster at the same time. Other stories suggest the name was picked at random from a map by Samuel Shaw and his daughter, or came from one Captain Boynton, who lived in the area and had served with the British Army in India.
The Bow Valley Ranche house was built in 1896 on the site of Glenn’s second home. It was first owned by William Roper Hull and later by Patrick Burns; both were ranching magnates who invested greatly in Calgary and Alberta. The Fish Creek valley and surrounding area had farming and ranching operations into the 1980s. The Bow Valley Ranche House is now used as a restaurant and banquet hall, and is a Provincial Historic Resource.
John Glenn provided the land to build St. Paul’s Anglican Church, the oldest Church in present-day Calgary. It first had service in 1885; Samuel Shaw was Church organist. In 1904, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church (presently St. John Chrysostom Russian Orthodox Church) was built. Famed missionary Father Albert Lacombe served in St. Patrick’s starting in 1908. Each is a Provincial Historic Resource.
Father Lacombe lived in the Midnapore area from 1908 to his death in 1916. He established the Lacombe Home in 1910 on former ranching land, donated by Pat Burns. It was originally a home for orphans, the elderly and the disabled, meant to take care of the less fortunate during a time when there were few social services available. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1999. The site has been expanded several times and served the community in numerous additional capacities for the past century: as a high school (“Providence High”) in the 1950s; as a convent; a boarding school; recreational facility; and ceramics business. The east part of the site is now a retirement home; the west side is occupied by St. Mary’s University, and is also a Provincial Historic Resource.
Midnapore was a small community that, prior to development, had a peak population of 519 in 1969. It was surrounded by farmland and primarily provided services to farmers and ranchers, with a grain elevator, feed elevator, welding shop, machine shop and several lumber yards. It also offered roadside services for travellers, with gas stations and bungalow camp motels.
Midnapore was annexed by The City of Calgary in 1961; at the time the name referred broadly to the area surrounding Fish Creek and its valley, though the majority of the townsite was contained in the present-day community of Midnapore, established in 1977. The rest was partitioned into Fish Creek Provincial Park, and the communities of Millrise and Shawnee Slopes, with additional residences and sites in the communities of Shawnessy and Sundance.