Joseph and Elizabeth Fisher (Stagg)

Millarville District, Alberta, 1883
Submitted by Gene Blakely, Grandson of Joseph and Elizabeth Fisher, December 6th, 2021

Joseph Fisher
Joseph Fisher, circa 1900

Joseph was born in 1842 at Knells Farm, Carlisle, Cumberland, England and emigrated to Hornby, Ontario where he had a farm, "Willowbank". Here he raised Belted Galloway cattle. He was joined by his brother Henry and sisters Jane and Mary. A dealer in cattle, Joseph and Henry brought the first carload of cattle to Calgary by rail in 1883. Disposing of these, they returned to Ontario but came west with more stock in 1884 with a view to settlement.


Riding southwest from Calgary into the still unsettled foothill country they came upon the green valley watered by the creek that still bears their surname name. They decided that, before they filed on homesteads, they should test the ability of stock to survive the winters. At the edge of the hill, some distance from the creek, they prepared a shelter by digging several feet into the ground. Its walls were lined with rocks, still intact over a hundred years later. Steps led down to it and the roof was of poles covered with sod. With bunks along the walls, a stove for cooking and heating, and a table and benches, it made a comfortable dwelling, roomy enough to accommodate as many as seven men. Early settlers often exhibited great ingenuity in establishing their first shelters. For years afterward the dug out was used as a shop. The rock-lined, hand-dug well still produces water.

The warm Chinook winds set at rest their anxieties about the cold winters; their animals were thriving and, after three years, they decided to stay permanently. In May 1887, Joseph Fisher travelled to Calgary and filed on the land that they were living on: NE 6-21-3W5. By "proving up" on his homestead, within a short time he was given the NW6-21-3-W5, and this became the Pre-Emption. Their brother-in-law, George Bell, and Henry also homesteaded land adjacent to Joseph's. The new buildings were constructed of logs from the nearby hills and were far enough above Fisher Creek to be safe from flooding.

This was the start of a thriving horse ranch. But Joseph was a man of many enterprises. He invested in more land, raised cattle, irrigated hay lands, built a sawmill, and opened a coal mine. In 1900, the lower ranch N half-21-3-W5, called "The Meadow," was purchased from the CPR at a cost of fifty cents per acre. As this was easily irrigated, it became their source of hay. A few sections of land about five miles east of Black Diamond were added and an irrigation canal was dug from the South Sheep River. This is still evident today. Other land was held in lease, which provided a thousand acres of pasture for his horse herd. His cattle - Highland, Durham, and Belted Galloway - were branded with the reverse F.

Joseph was first and foremost a horseman. In a few years, there were many fine horses bearing the first Fisher brand "pop on the jaw," a small dime sized mark on the left jaw. Later, when buying a band of 450 mares from John Norris, he also purchased the brand JN on the left shoulder. The Fisher horses were well known for their speed, beauty, and endurance. Roaming as far as Fort McLeod, the herd provided a regular supply of stock for the Mounted Police and the Calgary Fire Department. These horses numbered about fourteen hundred by the time of Joseph's death in 1914. He also raised jumping and polo horses. Joseph travelled to the East Coast, the West Coast and to England with carloads of horses for sale, bringing back better stallions. One of his jumping horses broke a North American height record.

Joseph married Elizabeth Stagg at Calgary in 1898. She knew Joseph in Ontario, where she had come as a child with her Scottish parents. Elizabeth journeyed across Canada with her brother, Will, to join Joseph in Millarville. On that train were men on their way to the Yukon and the gold rush. This was a rugged country at the time and she learned to live with rough cowboys, just-settled natives and isolation. She became instrumental in setting up social events and, after the Ranches Hall was built on the upper ranch, her pump organ was transported across Fisher Creek to provide music at these events.

Elizabeth Fisher (Stagg)
Elizabeth Fisher (Stagg)

They had eight children, five boys and three girls: Mary Isobel 1899-1968, Robert 1900- 1963, Joseph Jr. 1902- 1992, John 1905-1966, Kathleen 1907- 1980, Jean 1909- 1998, Harry 1912- 1977, and William 1919- 2002.

Mrs. Fisher operated the ranch after her husband's death. She and her children would spend the winters in Calgary and the summers on the ranch or at their home in Victoria. The attractive log buildings located on the ranch were constructed in 1933. The original ranch house was located on the south side of the creek not far from the dug out, but only the dug out's rock walls are still standing.

The Rancher's Hall, originally on this site, has been moved to Heritage Park in Calgary. Another ranch that was located on the South Sheep Creek had a set of buildings that were originally for the hired men but later became home for Elizabeth and son Robert. The main log house even showed bullet holes in some of the walls as the early cowboys carried revolvers and sometimes horseplay was involved. Many a young rodeo cowboy was introduced to bronc riding on Sundays at the Meadow. Impromptu rodeos were staged using JN horses.

The original Fisher lands were divided up over the years to the children and some of the original lands near Black Diamond and Millarville were sold to facilitate Elizabeth and her children in her later years. Being left with eight children, the oldest being fifteen years old at the time of Joseph's death, the financial situation required the selling of lands and stock.

Joseph Jr. eventually took over the home quarter and expanded the ranch with his wife Jane Fisher, to include their sons Peter and Jody. The Pre-Emption was ranched by Jean and Tim Blakley. Son, Gene, and sister, Mary, continue living there. Alan and Joan Tosh continued ranching and expanded on the land left for Kathleen.

Joseph Fisher's cow brand, the reverse F, was located on the left rib. The horse brand, JN, was located on the left shoulder. Both brands are still registered in Peter Fisher's name. The original show horse brand, the "pop" on the left jaw and inside foreleg, is registered in Gene Blakley's name.