Historic Photos from Buffalo National Park

With bison numbers rapidly dwindling on North America’s Great Plains, the Canadian Government opted to create preserves where, it was hoped, extinction of the species could be prevented. One of these preserves, created in 1907, was known as Buffalo National Park and was located immediately south of Wainwright, Alberta.

Buffalo National Park Farm near Wainwright, Alberta, 1909-1914

The government purchased bison from the Pablo-Allard herd in Montana and had them shipped by train north into Alberta. Buffalo National Park was approximately 520-square-kilometres in size and needed to be fully fenced, so the bison were sent to Elk Island National Park to await completion of the fence. In all, about 400 head were shipped to Elk Island that first year. Two years later, in 1909, the fence was complete and the bison that were residing in Elk Island were rounded up and transported to their new home. Despite the best efforts of the wranglers, there were a few bison who stubbornly refused to be relocated. It is estimated that between 50 and 70 bison remained in Elk Island and these strays would become the nucleus of the herd that still exists there to this day. Edward Ellis, who was the caretaker of the bison paddock in Banff, was appointed to this new park near Wainwright and was later confirmed as the park’s first superintendent, a position he held for three years.

A. S. MacLellan in charge of Cattalo, Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Alberta, 1909-1914

By the summer of 1912, just over 700 bison had been transferred from Montana to Alberta. The science behind wildlife management was still in its infancy at this time and the park suffered from its successful breeding campaign. The carrying capacity of land that size was estimated at 5,000, but by 1925 an astonishing 10,000 bison were trying to survive on overgrazed and overcrowded pastures. This despite the fact that nearly 2,000 head were being culled annually and many more were being shipped around the world, including some 6,000-7,000 head that were transferred to Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta. Buffalo Park’s herd was both starving and suffering from disease, so the round-ups continued even in the face of public outcry.

Herding buffalo with range riders, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1909-1914

In 1939, the land was turned over to the Department of Defence, which would eventually become Canadian Forces Base Wainwright, and the remaining animals were relocated to other parks. In 1980, as part of Alberta’s 75th Anniversary celebration, four Great Plains bison (two bulls and two cows) returned to Wainwright as a small memorial herd. Today, the herd has grown to about 20 animals and they reside in the Bud Cotton Buffalo Paddock, named in honour of one of the park’s longest-serving  Wardens.

Pair of young buffalo presented to the City of Dublin, Ireland, by the Canadian Government, shipped from Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Alberta, 1909-1914

For additional stories about bison, please refer to these previous posts, Historic Homecoming: Bison Return to Banff and Legend of the White Bison.

Buffalo, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1909-1914
Domestic buffalo, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1909-1914
Cattalo, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1909-1914
Yak-buffalo, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1909-1914
Elk, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1909-1914
Moose, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1909-1914
Herd of moose at Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Alberta, 1911
Yaks at Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Alberta, 1911
Sam Purchell, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1917
First buffalo shipped to Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Alberta, 1909
Deer in Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Alberta, 1911
Canada Goose nesting in a tree, Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Alberta, 1909-1914
Buffalo National Park
Trialia, hybrid buffalo cow, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1910
Buffalo National Park
Elk, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1910-1925
Buffalo National Park
Antelope in Buffalo Park near Wainwright, Alberta, 1910
Buffalo National Park
Sam Purchell, sharpshooter, near Wainwright, Alberta, n.d.
Buffalo National Park
Notice concerning annual slaughter, Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Alberta, n.d.
Buffalo National Park
Buffalo pens, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1920s
Buffalo National Park
Young girl feeding antelope in Buffalo Park near Wainwright, Alberta, 1920s
Buffalo National Park
First Nations gathered for filming of “The Last Frontier”, Buffalo Park near Wainwright, Alberta, 1923
First Nations gathered by campfire during filming of “The Last Frontier”, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1923
Buffalo National Park
Range riders in Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Alberta, 1929
Buffalo National Park
Vern Treffry and William J. Oliver at Jameson Lake, near Wainwright, Alberta, n.d.
Buffalo National Park
Vern Treffry with rescued calf in Buffalo Park near Wainwright, Alberta, 1928-1930
Buffalo National Park
Lunch time entertainment in the corral, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1928-1930
Buffalo National Park
Herd of 5000 buffalo, near Wainwright, Alberta, 1920

The photos above were collected from the Glenbow Archives. If you’re interested, additional information can be found for each photograph on the Glenbow website by searching the identification number that is printed on the photo. There is also the option to purchase a high resolution copy. Stay tuned for additional posts featuring historical photos from across Alberta. We’d love to know what you think in the comment section below.

About Tyler Dixon 183 Articles
Tyler is originally from Saskatchewan, and yes he cheers for the Roughriders, but don’t hold that against him as Calgary has been his home for the past eight years. He is a teacher working at a wilderness- based treatment program for youth working to overcome addiction. Tyler is also a volunteer with the GOT Parks initiative, which aims at reconnecting Canada’s youth with our national, provincial, and territorial parks. During his time away from work, Tyler enjoys outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and snowboarding, team sports, travelling, photography, spending time with good friends, and being at home with his wife and German Shepherd, Rome.