If you can imagine, the Bow River was once referred to as a wooden river, used for 58 years to drive log’s from the Canadian Rocky Mountain’s downstream to Calgary.
In 1883 the Government of Canada anticipated the need for bulding materials and advertised for tenders for ten timber berths covering about 500 square miles on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains in the Bow Valley. The timber was sold to the highest bidder. Four of the timber births stradled the Bow River from Canmore to the base of Castle Mountain, west of Banff.
By 1885 logging had begun in the Bow Valley, in Banff National Park logging ended in the visible locations in 1890 but did continue in remote places until 1930. By 1887 the Bow River had turned into a classic Canadian log-driving river, a forest of timber connected to the Calgary Eau Claire sawmill by a swift flowing stream.
Early tourists to Banff would have watched logs shooting over the Bow Falls and meet up with the logs floated down the Spray River. At the meeting of the rivers in the pool below the falls the logs would be boomed and then sent on downriver through the shallow flats at Canmore, through the rapids at The Gap and out of the mountains into the foothills. At the mouth of the Kananaskis River another boom of logs joined the speedy journey over the Kananaskis Falls, the Horseshoe Falls, then through the Nakoda reserve, past Cochrane and on to Calgary.
The first log drive in 1887 was a disaster, nine of the river drivers were swept over the Kananaskis Falls in their boat, six of the men were killed. Due to the windfalls and many boulders it took most of the summer to bring the logs down to Calgary.
Nonetheless this drive established a pattern that would become a seasonal ritual. For a few months starting in late May, gangs of thirty to forty men would dangerously and with tremendous physical labour coax a ten mile fleet of logs downstream three or four miles a day until they reached Calgary.
Timber was cut every winter, floated to Calgary in spring, and sawed into lumber in summer and fall. In the off-season, crews would improve the river by constructing brush dams, haul out snags, dynamite to open tight channels, build flash dams to improve the flow and build lakes to store water for the drive.
The height of production and the river drives covered fifty-eight years between 1886 and 1944. By this time most of the City of Calgary had been floated down the river. The construction of several hydroelectric dams on the Bow made it more difficult and costly to continue the regime of the wooden river.