Did you know that many of the elk you see in the Spirit River area are descended from elk shipped in from Banff?
1964 was the first time elk from the mountain parks were brought north to this region, which was considered perfect for the beasts. Banff was saturated with them so, to save them from being shot, the Alberta Fish and Game Association packed seven bulls and 20 cows in a cattle truck and had them shipped up here. They hoped the herd would some day be 1000 head strong.
In 1966, 160 more elk were moved from Banff to the Spirit River area and the rest is… well, addition.
Now for the first part of the story: how did the elk get to Banff? Oddly enough, they didn’t just start out there. By 1900, the wild herds there had almost disappeared.
Rewind a few years before then, to 1875. Near Darlingford, Manitoba, an Irishman named Tom Ticknor was homesteading. With only one horse and one cow, he was finding it difficult to break land. The solution was to tame a female elk and team her up with the horse.
Nature took her course, and soon Ticknor had a small herd of – no, not horelks or elses! – elk (the bulls came around to the farm). Come mating season, wild bull elk were attracted, and within a few years Ticknor had a herd of elk he used for field work.
Ticknor, his wife Ursula and daughter Nora enjoyed many years on their homestead. After Tom died in 1899, his widow sold the elk to a Manitoba M.P., who in turn sent four males and one female to Banff in order to restock the mountain herds. In 64 years, those five elk and the few wild ones left grew to a herd that was too big for their territory. And fifty years since then? Spirit River’s herd is strong and wild.