CPAWS Southern Alberta Blog

The Lougheed Legacy in Kananaskis

By Kirsten Olson,
Office and Fund Program Administrator
CPAWS Southern Alberta

The connection between the Lougheed family and the development of parks in Alberta is long and storied. James Alexander Lougheed, a young lawyer from Ontario, made his way west, offering his services to the Canadian Pacific Railway. Arriving in Medicine Hat in 1883, he set up a tent as his law office. He later moved to Calgary.

James represented two disappointed railwaymen who tried to lay claim to the hot springs near Banff when the railway first came through the Rocky Mountains. The Dominion government stepped in and declared the surrounding area a reserve, which later became the first park in Canada.
In 1889, James became Senator Lougheed. In recognition of his service as head of the Military Hospitals Commission during the First World War, he became Sir James in 1917. After Sir James’ death in 1925, Mount Lougheed in the Kananaskis Range was named in his honour.

In Calgary, the Lougheed Building/Grand Theatre and the Lougheed House still stand as legacies of this key figure in national politics and Calgary’s legal and business circles.

The eastern slopes of the Rockies have continued to hold a special place in the Lougheed family’s hearts. Generations of family members enjoyed the family cabin in Banff from 1897 until it was sold in 1993.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, more Calgarians began to look to the eastern slopes of the Rockies for their recreation. In 1971, Sir James’ grandson Peter became premier of Alberta. Of his many accomplishments, it is the establishment of Kananaskis Country in 1978 that often stands out among environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts in Alberta.

Amid pressures for increased development in Kananaskis, Bill Milne, a Calgary architect and environmentalist, proposed a public consultation, through a survey, and Albertans overwhelmingly supported increased protection for the area. A helicopter ride over Kananaskis Lakes convinced the Premier that the area should be made into a park. Premier Lougheed envisioned a multi-use area that would be used primarily for recreation but would also accommodate resource extraction and grazing leases.

Joe Lougheed, the premier’s son, recently shared his thoughts on his father’s motivation. “I think Dad believed that if people experience natural areas, they became more connected and more determined to protect it,” he told CPAWS. His father felt that natural spaces had to be protected, while at the same time remaining accessible to a wide range of Albertans and tourists. Jeanne Lougheed, the premier’s wife, was instrumental in making sure that all people could enjoy a barrier-free mountain experience. Her idea for William Watson Lodge, designed to accommodate all ages, abilities, and cultures was made a reality in 1981.

In 1986, shortly after Premier Lougheed retired, Kananaskis Provincial Park was re-named Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Joe acknowledges the role that organizations such as CPAWS Southern Alberta have in pushing for further protection of our public lands. “We need more hardened voices to be heard,” he told CPAWS, “but we also need more collaboration between organizations so that reasonable solutions can be found.”