The Calgary Commemorative Silver Dollar of 1975

The Calgary Commemorative Silver Dollar of 1975

By: MICC Lifetime member #001

Calgary was founded for one overriding purpose: location. Immediately after he had the power to do so after Confederation, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald moved to establish a Canadian presence in vast unsettled area of the Prairies. His fears were justified; the Americans, having directed their occupational energies south and west, were now looking north. In fact, they had already occupied isolated pockets, one of the more notorious being “Fort Whoop-up”, a whiskey trading post near presentday Lethbridge, Alberta, and a post that openly flew the American flag.

Fort Calgary 1881

For the purpose, Macdonald created a para-military force in 1873 which became known as the North West Mounted Police. For the time being, the force’s jurisdiction was just the “Northwest”, an area bounded by the then-small Province of Manitoba on the east and the Rocky Mountains (i.e., the border of the province of British Columbia) on the west. In 1874 the Police made their trek across the Prairies, establishing and manning a string of posts composed roughly of three layers. The site of Calgary was the extreme western post of the middle string and came into being in September, 1875. It is this date that is commemorated on the Canadian silver dollar a century later.

The site chosen was close to the foothills of the Rockies at the junction of two rivers. The larger, called the Bow, derived its name from the fact that good bow wood grew along its banks, something highly prized by the nomadic aboriginal peoples to the east. The original native name for the smaller river appears to have been lost but, with a certain amount of humour, the whites called it the “Elbow” – and the new post “Fort Elbow”. The name was not favoured by the local commander of the fort, Inspector Ephriam Brisebois, who proceeded to name it after himself: Fort Brisebois. In turn, the name upset the new assistant commissioner of the NWMP, A.G. Irvine, and in the summer of 1876, the fort acquired its third – and final – name: Fort Calgary. Irvine’s predecessor, Col. James Macleod, had suggested the name some time before and it is derived from Calgary House on the Isle of Mull on Scotland’s west coast, translating from the Gaelic as “bay farm”.

Poster for first 

“Calgary Stampede”

Sept. 2 – 5, 1912

Until the time of the photo above – 1881 – Fort Calgary grew very little beyond its mandate as a NWMP post. In that year, however, everything changed. It was discovered that the CPR was not going south as originally intended but would cross the Rocky Mountains immediately west of Fort Calgary and pass directly through the settlement. Immediately this was known, the visionaries and speculators went to work, the federal government opportuned (sometimes successfully) for large tracts of land in the area. One prime example was the Cochrane Ranch Company, incorporated in 1881 with a capital of $500,000, the major shareholder and C.E.O. being Senator Matthew Cochrane, the owner of a big leather and shoe business in Montreal. Former NWMP superintendent James Walker was selected to be the Calgary ranch manager.

For some 15 years thereafter, Calgary was primarily a “cow town” – although it blossomed dramatically, even to becoming the first incorporated city in Alberta (September 16, 1893) and boasting electric lights, waterworks and sewers. The emphasis on beef came to an end in 1896 when Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton began his campaign to fill up the Canadian West with settlers and in so doing revoked or ceased to grant the large land leases. Fortunately, there was an agricultural product to spur this along: wheat. At first it was Red Fyfe, displaced in 1909 by the extraordinary Marquis.

Collectors’ Silver Dollar, 1975 commemorating the centennial of Calgary.
Total Mintage: 833,095. Issued in proof of silver .500 fine. Issue price: $3.50

Obverse: Designed by Arnold Machin; Modelled by Patrick Brindley
Reverse: Designed by D.D. Paterson; Modelled by Patrick Brindley.


View of a street car on Eighth Avenue and Centre Street,
Calgary in 1912

As of September 5, 1905, both Alberta and Saskatchewan attained provincial status, the latter’s economy based largely on grain and Alberta, by this date, with wheat as the primary resource as well (followed closely by livestock raising). For quite some time it was known that Alberta had petroleum reserves of some kind. Coal was discovered and mined at both Lethbridge and Blairmore; C.P.R. crews drilling for water near Medicine Hat in 1883 struck natural gas and by 1903, this was being piped into the city’s dwellings. However, a major oil find proved elusive until 1947 when Imperial Oil’s first Leduc well “blew in” on February 13 of that year.

The beginning of
Alberta’s oil industry.
Leduc well “blow-in”February 13, 1947.

Since that time, Calgary has expanded by leaps and bounds. By 1975, an aerial view shows the city approaching the foothills; today the metropolitan area is climbing them.

Quite a city.


Previously printed in the MICC Numismatic Journal Vol-02, Issue-09