By the start of the 20th Century, ranching in the west had begun to see a great many changes. The days of the open range were over, following increased settlement and the criss-crossing of the railways through ranch lands. Ironically, the Canadian Government had used the success of the industry to encourage the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) across the prairies, selling investors on the benefits of expanding markets.
Early ranchers had enjoyed “no-settlement” land leases and they also benefitted from the disappearance of the buffalo. In the late 1800s, the Indian Department became one of the primary beef markets. The treaties of the 1870s had promised that food would be provided to the First Nations in the event of “general famine”, a direct result of the decline in buffalo hunting. The treaties had also promised livestock to assist them in becoming farmers.
By the 1880s, the industry was booming, in spite of a US tariff of over 20 per cent. In 1881 there were 5,690 beef cattle in the Northwest Territories (including Edmonton, Calgary and Fort Macleod). The Minister of Agriculture reported in 1887 that there were 90,000 head of cattle, 8,000 horses and 18,000 sheep in Alberta. The construction of the railways had in fact provided access to markets in the east. Unfortunately the CPR was simply not equipped to handle the increased traffic in livestock and grain. A shortage of livestock cars, poor conditions, and delays were a constant frustration for ranchers.