John Ware: The Man and His Legend

John Ware: The Man and His Legend

John-WareFew personalities stand out in the ranching history of Canada like John Ware. John was an African-American born into slavery on a South Carolina plantation around 1845.  He rose to fame in the young Canadian prairies due to his exceptional horsemanship skills.  His amiable personality and sheer determination won the hearts of many.  A wealth of legends has been woven about John Ware, transforming him into larger than life character in the Canadian west.

John Ware Cabin, located in Dinosaur Provincial Park, is connected to just the last five years of this remarkable man’s life.  A true pioneer, John Ware established his reputation in frontier society with deeds rather than words. His skills in the saddle and straightforward honesty earned him the respect of fellow cattlemen and entrepreneurs. First Nations people called him “Matoxy Sex Apee Quin” (bad black white man) because of his courage and enormous strength.

In 1882, John and a friend rode north on a cattle drive to Montana. They were soon hired by Fred Stimson of the North West Cattle Company to escort a herd across the border to the Bar U Ranch, near Calgary. John loved the northern landscape and never returned to the USA. He worked on several area ranches including the Bar U (now a National Historic Site), building a reputation for breaking in wild horses.

John Ware and familyBy 1890, John was on his own property near Millarville.  He courted Mildred Jane Lewis, marrying her in February 1892 in Calgary’s Baptist Church. Within eight years they had three sons and two daughters (a fourth son died in infancy).

In 1900, the Ware family and 300 head of cattle moved from the Calgary area to a spot northeast of Duchess.  John built a modest cabin on the banks of the Red Deer River from spruce logs drifting past from upstream sawmills.  That home was destroyed in the spring flood of 1902. John relocated to higher ground overlooking a stream now called Ware Creek.

Sadly, the family did not occupy the new home for long. In spring 1905, Mildred died of pneumonia.  In September of that same year, John was killed when his horse tripped and fell on him.

John’s death came just 12 days after Alberta became a province. John Ware’s funeral in Calgary was the largest in that young city’s history. Afterwards, the children were sent to live with their grandparents and the property was sold.

The John Ware Cabin

15583996015_5545fed397_kBy the late 1950s, the John Ware cabin had deteriorated. Members of the Brooks Kinsmen Club saved it, relocating the cabin to the former day use area in the park. Volunteers made repairs and local ranching families furnished it to create a turn-of-the-century setting.

In 1993, the cabin was moved again and was again in need of major repairs. The Dinosaur Natural History Association raised funds.  Funding for restoration was also secured from Alberta Environmental Protection, Alberta Historical Resources Foundation and Old Bones Productions of Los Angeles.

In 1998, Parks Canada was selected to restore the cabin based on their extensive knowledge of repairing historical log structures. The logs were laid and left to dry and shrink for one year.  The spaces between the logs could then be filled in – a process called “chinking.” After the cabin was completed, new interpretive displays were installed.  The cabin was reopened to visitors in June 2001 and officially unveiled on Parks Day in July 2002.

8020455356_98cef3cac1_kHours of Operation for John Ware Cabin

  • Open weekend afternoons only during July and August
  • Also open by special appointment

Alberta Parks