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History: The Morley Trading Post

Reprinted from the August 1950 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

Thousands of travellers on the Canadian Pacific Railway going through Morley, forty-two miles west of Calgary, have noticed with passing glances a small frame building just East of the Station and outside the railway’s right-of-way fence.

Few if any small Trading Posts in the West have a more interesting history than this insignificant small structure. It was built back in 1881 by two men whose names are not forgotten as old-timers and pioneers. They had their fingers and money into about everything that would make the West grow. As railway contractors, mail and coach drivers, ranchers, bankers and trading post proprietors, they were gamblers in many enterprises that made all men respect them in more ways than one. A large office building on Eight Avenue West in Calgary still stands in their memory.

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The first Stage Lines to run from Fort Benton to Calgary and Edmonton was one of their ventures. Soon the business grew until lines of freight wagons pulled by many teams of horses and sometimes yokes of Oxen were a semi-weekly sight on the Macleod Trail. These were to supply the growing country with all commodities that the new settlers required. His Majesty’s Mails were carried for several years before the railway entered the country. Their paper and endorsements were accepted like Canadian Bank Notes of today.

Horses being in great demand by this business, they completed a ranch Southeast of Morley, between the Station and the Jumping Pound, which was known for years for the S & L brand letters taken from the surnames of the two men — Scott and Leeson. In 1881 to supply the ranch with a ready stream of food and equipment they built the place known as the Morley Trading Store.

Very soon the trading post had hundreds of customers; ranchers from all directions came to trade and to buy; and over eight hundred Indians did not have to travel miles to get rid of their furs. The country was full of fur in the days of sixty and seventy years ago, and the Stony Indians were well known as the best hunters of the mountain tribes. Besides the Indian horses and the Indian fur, fence posts and firewood were always in great demand by the farmers farther east, and all of these things the little store absorbed.

In the seventy years past this store has weathered all ups and downs of the world’s trade and commerce. It has changed hands six times since the last partner, George Leeson, died in the early part of this century. Each time the change occurred it is well worth noticing the sterling qualities of the new owners; they were true Western men, all of them with the spirit of fair dealing and their given word was never broken. Always they were looked upon by Indians more as Father Confessors than just as store-keepers, and the store was regarded as a retreat — a retreat they could go to with all their trouble for sound advice and counsel. No Indian would go hungry if these men had the rations to fill his belly, though they knew that months might go by before the debt was paid. The slow annual Treaty payment, or the slower money paid by the Agency for work done ahead of the actual cash payment. The Agency welcomed such an arrangement because in many instance they were unable to make any advances, and as a result these Traders filled a very critical need at times.

Not always were the Indian Agent and the Post Trader the best of friends; this made it difficult for the Trader to get his credits from the Indian Office. There eventually came a time the Trader had to trust to the Indian’s honor to pay when he received his money from the Agency direct.

During the Flu Epidemic of 1918 the Indian Agent told the Trader of that time to feed the Indians and do the best he could. This the Trader did for some ten days, emptying out his shelves and organizing the whole Reserve into a field hospital until the doctor finally arrived with nurses and took over. Disregarding all the help that the Indians got from the Trader, the Agent refused to acknowledge the debt of food and medicines. Because the Trader had not received the request in writing to succor the Indians, the debt was never paid, and finally forced the only assignment that this little post had ever experienced. It was not always easy sailing for the shopkeeper, and the fact remains today that because the Post was on the Canadian Pacific Railway’s right-of-way and through the good dispensation of that Company, hostile Indian Agents could never banish the store from existence as might have happened if it had occupied Department land. Hardly a week had gone by in the past thirty years when the Indians at Morley were not asking some just request from Ottawa. Five years ago the Indian Department saw fit to buy more land for this Reservation (which they did with accumulated Indian funds). Previous to this, the Stony Indians were often in desperate circumstances ; this, in spite of the fact that the Trader might be more than generous. Many councils were held between the Traders and the Indians. Much writing was done by the Traders and their friends to Ottawa officials. These constant demands on the part of the white friends of the Indians have finally borne fruit — now a new agreement is or has been made by the present Parliament of 1950. There is no doubt that without this constant championing of the Indian on the part of the Traders, the present good economic conditions of the Reserve would still be many years in the hatching.

These Traders were characters in their own making and many are the stories they could have told. Following the Leeson and Lineham ownership of the store came McDougall and Graham, the former a well-known rancher at Cochrane and Morley. They sold to Frank Wellman who, getting himself established as a rancher, sold to Norman K. Luxton. Apparently not able to make a living in Banff during the first war, and turned down for military service, Luxton took up to increase his acquaintance with the Stonies, and to run the Post for three years. Then Fred Graham, the same man as above, bought out the Luxton interests. He came from Ontario as a small boy when his family settled in Morleyville. Fred was well adapted for this Post, having grown up among Indian children. He is one of the few white men who can fluently speak the Sioux language. At one time he was also Sheriff of Calgary, succeeding Isaac S.G. Van Wart. Next Rodgers, Graham’s head man, bought out the Graham interests and ran it until he died. He was followed by the present owner, L. Kidd.

Some of the early managers of this place were Robert Scott of Leeson and Scott; Fletcher Brayden who became one of the leading fur buyers from all the North West Territories. Howard Sibbald, a well respected man and eventually Superintendent of Kootenay Park, was also Indian Agent at Morley and Gleichen. Fred Kidd, now living in Edmonton, was really and truly the Indian’s friend, and he was a relative of George Leeson. Frank Wellman, a small rancher, always had a boost for the Indians. Norman K. Lexton of Banff has never ceased to champion the rights of these folk, who at the time owned all the country they so dearly loved to hunt and roam. Rodgers, a newcomer, even with his Scottish carefulness never turned a hungry Indian down. Of the present owner, Lloyd Kidd, the Indians say, “He’s a good man.” Not least of them all was William Graham Sr. J.P., father of Fred, who staked out his ranch on the Ghost River along the present No. 1 Highway. He was one of the early settlers brought into this country by the great pioneers, the late David McDougall and his brother, the Reverend John, who were also neighbors and a big addition to the growing Morleyville, ranching some of the earliest general purpose horses as well as cattle.

In the 70 years of its life the Morley Trading Post has never changed its architecture; it stands today exactly as Leeson and Scott had planned, carrying with it down through the years many memories of the Old Pioneers.

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