Sir Cecil Denny's The Law Marches West

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Fort Calgary, 1878, three years after Cecil Denny arrived at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers. You can spot Denny sitting in the chair, mid-frame. This is said to be the first photograph of Calgary. (Photo: Ernest Brown)

Fort Calgary, 1878, three years after Cecil Denny arrived at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers. You can spot Denny sitting in the chair, mid-frame. This is said to be the first photograph of Calgary. (Photo: Ernest Brown)

Cecil Denny was in Calgary at the very beginning. A personable English remittance man with a gift of the gab, he joined the North West Mounted Police in early 1874, in time to join its historic March West into the lawless whiskey frontier. The following September, he set out with Inspector Brisebois and F Troop to select the site for a new fort on the Bow River. Later, he was known to joke with his superior officer, Colonel James Macleod about the meaning of the name “Calgary.” It wasn’t “clear running water,” the Gaelic for Macleod’s ancestral homeland on the Isle of Mull, but, Denny teased, the more pedestrian “cabbage patch.” In his fifties, his life and reputation in tatters, Denny still had the gift of story. In his memoir, he remembers he city on that early September day in 1875, capturing the moment of its conception.

 

We crossed the Bow River a little above the mouth of the Elbow, finding a good ford at this place. The view from the hill on the north side of the Bow, when we reached it at the beginning of September 1875, amazed us. Before us lay a lovely valley, flanked on the south by rolling hills. Thick woods bordered the banks of both streams; to the west towered mountains with their snowy peaks; beyond the Elbow, farther west along the Bow, stretched another wide, heavily timbered valley. Buffalo in large bands grazed in the valleys, but of man we saw no sign…Our first sight of this enchanting spot was one never to be forgotten, one to which only a poet could do justice. It was by far the most beautiful we had seen since our arrival in the West.

 Sir Cecil Denny, The Law Marches West (Dent, 1939) 

Excerpted in Denny’s Trek: A Mountie’s Memoir of the March West (Heritage House, 2004)