George Clift King

Some stories of the early days of the force, like most stories, grew and became more coloured with each telling. No less so than the story of the founding of Fort Calgary by the men of ‘F’ troop. Unlike the version often related to tourists of scarlet coated men proudly galloping across the Bow River, George Clift King, a corporal who was there, related what really happened that day in 1875:

“We descended the hill to the river ford - near where the Langevan Bridge is today. As there were no boats or ferries, we quickly improvised one. We tied our tarpaulins, which were closely woven and fairly water proof, underneath the wagon box and, with the aid of some long poles rowed ourselves across the river in safety. I was the first out.”

Thus a young corporal from Chelmsford, England - a veteran of the march West - became the first Mounted Policeman to set foot on the site which would eventually become the city of Calgary: an act which would be but one of many Calgary “firsts” in the life of George King.

King emigrated to Canada in 1874, at the age of 26. He had been educated in private schools in England and sought the promise of a better life in Canada. His first experiences in his new country were, however, somewhat less than he expected. He found employment with a Toronto wholesale grocer, James Lambert, in a position which amounted to little more than servitude: King’s wages barely made up his room and board. But in April of 1874, he saw the advertisements for the newly formed North West Mounted Police and signed on in search of adventure in the territories.

Upon taking his discharge in 1877, King, like so many other former Mounted Policemen, chose to stay in the West. He was appointed manager of the I.G. Baker outlet in Calgary: a position he held for the next five years. During this time, he met Miss Louise Monroe, the daughter of a fur trader. Louise’s father had recently died and she was employed as a housekeeper with a local priest, Father Scollen. In spite of their religious differences (Louise was Catholic, George was Anglican), they became Calgary’s first married couple in November of 1879. Louise prepared the marriage feast and the reception was attended by early settlers Sam Livingston and John Glenn as well as several of George’s former comrades from the force: Cecil Denny, Sandy Gilmore, Jim Barwis and anyone else from the barracks who could get away for the occasion. George would later file for divorce but withdraw his application upon reconciliation with Louise. The two went on to have four children, descendants of whom still live in Calgary

By 1883, King had opened his own dry goods store which had one of the most extensive selections of merchandise in the West. In 1885, he was appointed Calgary’s Postmaster and, in 1886, built a new building on Stephen Avenue to accommodate the post office and his growing operation: the first real post office in Calgary. His accountant and right hand man was his former sergeant from his mountie days, James Colvin.

The year 1886 also saw George King’s political fortunes increase. The election of Calgary’s second town council had been declared invalid by judge Jeremiah Travis (a supporter of one of the two rivals for the position of Mayor). There was, in effect, two town councils operating at the time, neither of which would recognise the authority of the other. The town clerk at the time, Thomas Boyes (another former mountie) would not cooperate and no town business could be conducted.eventually the citizens of Calgary had enough and petitioned the Territorial Government to call another election. This time, the electorate chose neither of the two rivals, but instead elected George Clift King as Mayor. Shortly after King’s first council meeting, a fire broke out which nearly destroyed the entire town of Calgary. Through King’s leadership, building code ordinances were passed and a bond issue was floated to provide funds for fire protection.

George King served two terms as Mayor and a subsequent three terms as Alderman. He was a founding member of several prominent business and service organisations in Calgary and was granted the Order of the British Empire by King George V in 1934. He passed away the following year and now rests in an unmarked grave in Section B of Calgary’s Union Cemetery: a somewhat unfitting end for a man who gave so much to Calgary. However, a project is under way to provide markers for both Goerge Clift King and James Colvin to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of Fort Calgary.

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Click here to read a follow-up story on the unmarked graves of James Colvin and George Clift King