The inspiration for some of these blog posts comes from the darndest places and some have extremely long gestation periods. Such is the case with this one.
Place names have a long history of being used in popular music. While American references abound, finding songs that mention Alberta, or even Canadian places or names are much harder to find. It seems that people would rather leave their heart in San Francisco than in Sangudo or spread the news about New York rather than New Sarepta. But if you look hard enough, there are examples of Alberta place names used in songs.
It was early January 2012. I was desperately trying to get the once enjoyable, but now overplayed and cloyingly sentimental tones of Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole from running through my head like the soundtrack to some never-ending, slightly demented holiday television special. So, I popped one of my favourite CDs into the player and the wonderful sounds of Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans started emanating from my speakers. The disc eventually came around to Track 8, “The Truth Comes Out.” Now, the house is pretty quiet, and I am listening to the lyrics much more closely than I otherwise might, and I hear:
You gotta’ look out for bear when you’re fishing on Lee’s Creek
They come ‘round the bend and they’ll make your knees weak
There’s grizzlies where there was no grizzly bears before.
Now, I know that Corb Lund is from southern Alberta and even though I am the names guy, I am not all that familiar with the southern reaches of the province. After mulling over the song for awhile, I start to wonder if there really is a “Lee’s Creek.” So, I fire up the old Alberta Geographical Names Database and sure enough there is a “Lee’s Creek,” or more properly there is a Lee Creek (more on that in a moment) in southern Alberta. It is a substantial creek with an interesting history.
Lee Creek is located in south-western Alberta. It rises within Montana’s Glacier National Park and flows generally north-easterly, crossing into Canada about 16 kilometres west of the Carway, AB / Peigan, MT border crossing. It continues to meander generally north-easterly for about 60 km (35 km as the crow flies), passing through the Town of Cardston before joining the St. Mary River in Section 23, Township 3, Range 25, West of the 4th Meridian (approximately 60 km south-west of Lethbridge).
The creek is named for William Samuel Lee. According to a local history of the Crowsnest Pass region, Lee was born in England at about 1830. As a young man, he migrated to the United States and worked in New York and Ohio before making his way to California hoping to make his fortune in the gold rush. Like most prospectors, Lee’s hopes of quick wealth in the gold fields were disappointed and he headed north to Fort Benton, Montana District to try his hand at fur trading. In 1867, Lee crossed the border into Rupert’s Land where he came upon a well-used ford across a substantial creek. He established a small trading post beside the ford (just west of present-day Beazer). The creek soon became known as “Lee’s Creek.”
Lee did not stay long on the creek named for him; he moved to the Pincher Creek area in 1870 and began ranching. He squatted on land along the shores of a lake (Lee Lake, go figure) about three km south east of present day Burmis. A few years later, Lee was evicted by the Hudson’s Bay Company and he moved his ranch, buildings and all, to a site north of Burmis. Lee is an important figure in the history of the Crowsnest Pass. He is considered to be the first non-native resident of the Pass; he discovered sulphur springs near present-day Frank; opened a boarding house; and built the region’s first school. William Lee spent the rest of his life in the Crowsnest region; he died of pneumonia in 1896.
Curious to learn more? Check out Part 2.
Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer and Geographical Names Program Coordinator
National Topographic System Map Sheet: 82 N/09 – Hector Lake
48° 59’ 53” N & 113° 36’ 02” W (at US/Canada border) to
49° 13′ 25″ N & 113° 15′ 59″ W (at confluence with St. Mary River)
Alberta Township System:
SW ¼, Sec 6 Twp 1 Rge 27 W4 (at US/Canada border) to
SW ¼, Sec 23 Twp 3 Rge 25 W4 (at confluence with St. Mary River)
Flows generally north-easterly from the border for approximately 65 km (35 km straight line) until it joins the St. Mary River just north of the Town of Cardston
More information about and images of Lee Creek and William Samuel Lee can be found in:
C. Drain, “Lee, William – The Pass was his Bull Run,” Crowsnest and its People, 2nd printing, (Coleman: Crowsnest Pass Historical Society, 1980), 662-663