The Story Behind How “Eau Claire” Was Linked to Calgary

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Most Calgarians are familiar with the downtown Eau Claire neighborhood, nestled along the Bow River. A mix of condos, restaurants, hotels, shops and a large urban market inhabit the area. The name Eau Claire is also familiar because the original “Eau Claire and Bow River Lumber Ltd.” The company office housed a cafe popular in the area for years. (This building was moved in 2021 to a temporary location, where it will be preserved and protected, while the area is being redeveloped.)

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Here, the Eau Claire & Bow River Lumber Co. building is ready to move to a temporary location in October 2021. Dean Pilling / Postmedia

Eau Claire’s name, however, came to Calgary thanks to a trio of expert American lumberjacks. In the 1880s, an Ottawa lawyer by the name of Kutusoff MacFee believed that there was money to be made by starting a logging business in Calgary and using trees from the nearby timber-rich mountains. MacFee hired three logging experts from Wisconsin to test the feasibility of such a venture. They approved the idea, and the new logging company was (in part) named after the men’s hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Local historian Jack Peach (1913-1993) wrote about the founding of the Eau Claire and Bow River Lumber Company in the following column that originally appeared in the Herald in 1981.

A photo of the Eau Claire sawmill, taken from Center Street (north of downtown) and looking west.  Calgary Herald Archives.
A photo of the Eau Claire sawmill, taken from Center Street (north of downtown) and looking west. Calgary Herald Archives.
Before it was known as the Buffalo Cafe from 1886, this 1971 photo shows the Center Cafe, in Eau Claire Lumber's former office.  Calgary Herald Archives.
Before it was known as the Buffalo Cafe from 1886, this 1971 photo shows the Center Cafe, in Eau Claire Lumber’s former office. Calgary Herald Archives.

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