Written by Belinda Crowson
Did you know, in 1954 Lethbridge’s newest tourist attraction was the Fort Whoop-Up Guest Ranch?
J.N. “Bus” Murdoch had grand ideas for an 85-acre guest ranch planned on the southern outskirts of Lethbridge. Murdoch intended the place be a real tourist attraction that would become known across the west.
Plans included a dining room, barbecue pit, track and bleachers, tourist cabins, square-dance hall, and golf driving range and putting green. He intended it to have both summer and winter activities including skijoring, cowhide races, sleighing and tobogganing events.
A quarter-mile oval track was constructed, and its opening in 1954 involved motorcycle races. Stock car races soon followed.
Some, though not all, of what Murdoch intended was constructed. The ranch was located near where Lethbridge College is today, and the D.A. Electric Barn was originally constructed as part of the ranch. The Whitney ranch house was also part of the plans, and the intention was to have the ranch house eventually turned it into a museum as well as headquarters for fishing and hunting guides that would operate in the area.
As Murdoch was having difficulties building the ranch, his plans changed. By 1962 the intention was to build dormitories for college students, groups of small service stores and a motel.
Murdoch’s grand plans finally came to an end, and for a number of reasons. Financial was certainly one of them as it wasn’t easy to find funding for everything he had planned. There were also issues with getting permission to do the construction. In fact, Murdoch had to move his original planned location (on the east side of the Whitney House rather than to the west as it was developed) because a related liquor plebiscite was defeated.
Murdoch worked on his plans for almost a decade, and was eventually forced to give up. By 1963 the Murdochs left Lethbridge, moving to California and this intended tourist attraction was no more.