#304 George Clift King

(The following article was taken from our archive files (The Albertan, 1975)

King of the Royal Mounted

"King of The Royal Mounted" was the title of a famous novel written by a well known Calgary author – Sgt. Ralph Kendall, member of the old mounted squad of the Calgary City Police, then for many years sergeant in charge of proceedings at the magistrate’s court.

It was strictly fiction, and pretended to be nothing else, but there are still many who wonder if it was more than a coincidence that caused the policeman-author to choose the name of "King" for his hero.

It is a name that means much to the old cowtown that has become the Stampede City of the Foothills.

As a matter of fact, it is the name of a man who deserves to be honored as "No. 1 Solid Citizen" of the community that has grown at the junction of the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

It was George Clift King, corporal of the North West Mounted Police, who was the first man to set foot in what now has become Calgary when "D" Troop was detailed to establish a post at "The Elbow" in late summer of 1875.

It was George C. King who was manager of the city’s first store, the I.G. Baker trading post, in 1877.

It was King who was married to Louise Munro, daughter of a pioneer trader, in 1879 and who settled down with his wife as the first married couple in the frontier settlement.

It was King who was postmaster in 1885.

It was King who was mayor in 1886 and 1887, who was leading member of the city’s first Masonic Lodge, King who was honored by receipt of the Order of the British Empire for his service in the West, King who knew more about Calgary’s growing pains than any other man who ever lived.

It is certain that author Kendall was acquainted with Corporal King of the NWMP, and it isn’t unlikely that his selection of the name of his fictional hero was a subtle tribute to the man who played such a big part in the pioneer history of Calgary.

King joined the newly formed Mounted Police in Eastern Canada when he was 24 years of age, and was a member of the gallant contingent of 300 men who made the famous "March to the Mountains" to bring law and order to the west in 1874.

It was in August, 1875, that he became the first citizen of modern Calgary.

As a member of the troop that was detached from duty on the Red Deer River to establish the Calgary post, King arrived on the north bank of the Bow River at Riverside Hill.

There he was delegated to cross the stream at a point that is approximately where Langevin Bridge stands today.

He made the crossing by makeshift boat.

A wagon box was removed from its wheels and bottom and sides were covered with canvas, lashed up to the "gunwales". It was poled across the river and King was the first man to step ashore on the flats that have since become Calgary.

It was the beginning of a city, and it was also the beginning of a love affair between Cpl. King and the community he was to call home for the rest of his life.

That he was truly smitten was shown many years later, in 1932, when he told of his first arrival in Calgary.

"Members of the troop," he wrote, "who until this time had traveled through a very hard country, were struck by the beauty of the valley that was spread before them and thought they had reached a real Garden of Eden.

"The two rivers were lined with brush. A large lake could be seen at the bottom of what is now known as Mount Royal Hill, near the Lougheed residence (now Red Cross House).

"There were wild flowers in profusion, ducks and other wild foul abounded and, looking down into the valley, the police officers were impressed with the thought of what a beautiful townsite this would make."

For Cpl. King, this was the end of a wandering trail and the beginning of a new life as a pioneer citizen.

As storekeeper, postmaster, mayor and businessman he saw the community grow from a log fort to a metropolis. He saw the railroad arrive, saw the town become a city, saw his son Eddie become one of Calgary’s greatest early-day native-born hockey players, saw soldiers march to the Boer and First World Wars, saw skyscrapers rise and saw oil join cattle and grain as the economic basis of the city.

When he died on July 18, 1935, at the age of 87 years, it could be truly said that no other man had ever seen a community grow from so little into so much as had Corporal George C. King – of the North West Mounted.

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The ‘ King of Calgary’ reigned with a gentle hand

(Calgary Herald, Feb. 27th, 1988 – Grant MacEwan

The telephone caller, without identifying himself, asked impatiently: "Who was the King of Calgary? Did Calgary really have a King?"

The question took me by surprise and I needed a moment to collect my thoughts.

But I recalled a historical sketch of early Calgary written by the city’s well known authority on old times, Tom Moore, under the title: King Of The Royal Mounted.

The central figure was quite obviously the distinguished pioneer, George Clift King, a man who never sat on a throne, never wore a crown and never claimed connection with royalty.

But in addition to being a King in name, he was a graduate from North West Mounted Police ranks and in the course of 56 years of residence in Calgary, amassed one of the most extensive lists of distinction to be found.

Perhaps nothing more than the coincidence of his name and his good performance as the second mayor of the town was needed to invite the slightly disguised appellation, "King of Calgary>"

King was born at Chelmsford in Sussex, England, in 1848, and arrived in Toronto as an immigrant at precisely the right time to join the new force, the North West Mounted Police, being recruited in the remote and lawless West. Hence, as Constable King, he was part of the famous police contingent of 1874 that trekked westward from Fort Dufferin in Southern Manitoba, not knowing for sure where the long journey would end.

In the next year, 1875, King, as a member of Inspector Brisebois’ F Troop, rode north from Fort Macleod with instructions to locate a suitable site for a police outpost on the Bow River.

There were delays but in late August, when the mounted men reined to a halt to rest their horses on the north side of the Bow, probably where 2nd Street, N.W. now comes to an end because of the river, they gazed with special interest upon the riverside scenery on the opposite side.

As Calgarians have heard before, the view so inspired the officer in command, that he turned to Constable King, saying "Get back on your horse and see if you can ford the river and you find that riverside as attractive as it appears, throw us a signal and we’ll all cross and camp there tonight."

King crossed the fast-flowing Bow without mishap about where the Langevin Bridge was built later and was much impressed by the natural park.

The other troopers followed and the officer said: "This must be the place Jerry Potts told us about. I think it’s what we want." If the speaker had the gift of prophecy, he might have had a vision of the proposed police post being followed by a town and then a proud city.

For Constable King it would be forever a source of pride he was the first non-native to set foot on the ground that became Calgary.

After the expiry of the three years for which he signed, King left the force and became the manage of the Benton-based I.G. Baker Company store built across the trail from Fort Calgary. His business flourished and his record of successes grew.

In 1885, as King was embarking upon the operation of his own store at Calgary, he was appointed to the position of postmaster, a responsibility he carried for the next 37 years.

King was also Calgary’s mayor in 1986-87.

King was growing old in Calgary. At the beginning of his 87th year of age he was honored by King George V with an award of membership in the Order of The British Empire, in recognition of service in the N.W.M.P., the post office and countless community projects.

When George Clift King, O.B.E., died in 1935, he wasn’t the last of the Mounted Men of 1874 but he was close to the last. Three others, James Walker of Calgary, Rancher John Herron of Pincher Creek and Major F.W. Bagley of Banff, who was the 15-year-old drummer boy in 1874, attended the funeral.

The late Mr. King was known as a congenial and modest man and if the reference to the "King of Calgary" came to his attention, it would, no doubt, have evoked nothing more than a smile.

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(The following article is from the Fort Calgary Quarterly, Spring, 1980)

(Author: #13407 Cliff Leach (deceased) – Calgary Division Historian)

The first recruits to join the North West Mounted Police included many young men from Eastern Canada and from the British Isles. They were eager to see the frontiers of Canada, with herds of buffalo and colourful tribes of Indians. They may have secretly hoped for a bit of military action against the "whiskey traders" from the south. And some had hopes of acquiring land in this vast expanse of open prairie.

One who came and stayed was George Clift King, who rode west with the N.W.M.P. in 1874. He was a member of "F" Troop at Fort Macleod in 1875 when they were detailed to arrange for the construction of a new fort on the Bow River. This patrol began in early August of 1875. When they reached the Bow, G.C. King and three others were the first to cross the river, in a wagon-box covered with canvas as a raft. King claimed the distinction of being the first to step ashore. He spent the next 60 years of his life in Calgary and had a prominent place in the civic and business affairs of the rowing community.

G.C. King was born on April 23, 1848, in Chelmsford, Essex, England, and educated in a private school. Working as a clerk in the mercantile business was not satisfying enough so he sailed for Canada in 1874. He joined the N.W.M.P. that same year in Toronto and was given Regimental No. 304.

With the other 217 officers and men and the horses and equipment needed for the journey, King traveled from Toronto to Fargo, North Dakota, by train, then by horseback on the "March West" to Fort Whoop up. By the time he arrived at his journey’s end, Fort Calgary, he had covered at least 1400 miles in the saddle during a period of some 14 months.

The I.G. Baker Company of Fort Benton, Montana, had contracted to build the new fort. Two years later, in 1877, King left the Force to succeed D.W. Davis as manager of the Baker Store, which had also been built in 1875 just south of the fort and measured 100 feet in length.

After five years as store manager, King opened his own store, which also contained the local post office. After three years, in 1885, he was appointed full-time Postmaster by the federal government, which necessitated his selling his store. He continued as Postmaster for 36 years and during that time not one complaint was received in Ottawa about service at the Calgary Post Office.

Following his retirement, King went back to his original occupation and opened a confectionery and tobacco counter in MacLeans’ Drug Store on 8th Avenue. He continued working there until his death.

Mr. and Mrs. King were the first couple to be married in the new village in 1879. During his 60 years in Calgary, Mr. King served as the second mayor of the town and also served a second term some years later.

King was at the first organizational meeting of the N.W.M.P. Veterans’ Association in 1886 and was elected Vice-Pres. He remained an active member of the association, holding several offices through the years.

On July 1st, 1917, Calgary helped celebrate 50 years of Confederation by unveiling a large stone as a monument to mark the spot where the N.W.M.P. fort was located. G.C. King was given the honour of officiating at the unveiling.

On Jan. 1st, 1934, King received recognition for his years of service to Calgary by being made a member of the Order of the British Empire, by His Majesty King George V.

When word of his death came on July 22, 1935, the Calgary Herald aptly stated that George Clift King was "Calgary’s First Citizen".