Feb. 22, 2019

Story of Rocking P Ranch brings family ranch history to life

University of Calgary Press celebrates its 100th open access publication; book launch Feb. 25
Rocking P Ranch and the Second Cattle Frontier in Western Canada examines the role of Rocking P Ranch in the history of southern Alberta. It is the 100th open access book published by the University of Calgary Press.

The book examines the role of Rocking P Ranch in the history of southern Alberta.

It’s the story of one of southern Alberta’s most ambitious family ranches and one of the largest in western Canada, Rocking P Ranch, as chronicled in the Rocking P Gazette, a newspaper started by two resourceful young sisters nearly a century ago.

University of Calgary history professor Warren Elofson and cattle rancher Clay Chattaway teamed up to write Rocking P Ranch and the Second Cattle Frontier in Western Canada, an account of the history of Rocking P Ranch. Founded in 1900 by Chattaway’s grandfather Roderick Riddle Macleay, the ranch flourished when many others failed, and it represented a way of life that continues to this day.

Macleay’s daughters Maxine and Dorothy, just 12 and 14 at the time, created the family newspaper in 1923 that told the story of the ranch through 17 monthly instalments of news stories, advertisements, riddles, poetry and contributions from Macleay’s ranch hands. Libraries and Cultural Resources has digitized these source materials and the Rocking P Gazette is now among the university’s digital collections.

The book's introduction explains why the Rocking P Gazette is such a valuable resource:

In conjunction with the rest of the Macleays’ personal and business papers, the newspaper provides a great array of insights into the practical, financial, and cultural attributes of this particular type of agricultural unit at a specific time and place in western Canadian history. This is all the more significant because scholars generally have very few really bountiful primary materials with which to chart rural family history … When a primary source such as this is uncovered, it is a precious find.

April 1925: A page from the Rocking P Gazette, the newspaper started by sisters Maxine and Dorothy Macleay to tell the story of the family ranch. Property of the Blades and Chattaway families and their descendants

April 1925: A page from the Rocking P Gazette, started by sisters Maxine and Dorothy Maclaey.

Dr. Elofson, PhD, says working with the grandson of Roderick and Laura Macleay was very rewarding.

“Conversations with Clay, the access he provided to the family papers, and his illuminating musings scattered throughout those papers, made it possible to dig deeply into the operation of pioneer cattle ranching in Western Canada,” says Dr. Elofson. “The Rocking P Gazette enabled us to bring the Canadian form of country and western culture to life through stories, art and poetry by the Macleays’ two young daughters, their capable and caring teacher — who lived on the ranch and ultimately married one of the cow punchers — and by the men who ran the Rocking P herds on grasslands stretching from the Porcupine Hills in southern Alberta to the Saskatchewan plains.”

Not only does the book explore a key chapter in the history of Alberta, its release also marks a significant milestone: it’s the 100th open access publication from the University of Calgary Press. The University of Calgary Press is one of only a handful of university presses in Canada to make its titles available for free online in addition to hard-copy format. A full copy of the new book may be downloaded here.

“We’re extremely proud to be a leader in promoting widespread dissemination of scholarly knowledge through open access publishing,” says Brian Scrivener, director of the University of Calgary Press, which is overseen by Libraries and Cultural Resources. “This role is key to advancing research and scholarship at the University of Calgary while broadening the exposure of our authors and telling the fascinating story of our province.”

Newspaper pages and some of the photographs appearing in the book are the property of the Blades and Chattaway families. Other photographs are from the Glenbow Archives.

Scrivener and the authors will speak at a public book launch Monday afternoon.