Although James Bruneau became well known locally for his long-term ranching endeavours, his first claim to fame was serving as a member of the original nine-man North West Mounted Police detachment and horse ranch here at Pincher Creek.
Frontier career with NWMP
James Benning Bruneau was born in Quebec on April 22, 1856. When he enlisted with the NWMP at the age of 21, Bruneau gave his address as 23 Beaver Hall Hill in Montreal. It was there that he was raised and educated.
Eager to ensure the success of his candidacy, Bruneau wrote a series of letters to the dominion minister of militia and the Department of the Secretary of State in early 1877, highlighting his interest and qualifications in joining the force.
His efforts were successful, for he officially joined up as a Mountie effective June 5, 1877. It was a three-year appointment that lasted till the late spring of 1880. His regimental number was 216 and he served as a constable. Bruneau’s height was listed as five feet eight inches.
Although much of Bruneau’s tenure with the NWMP was at Fort Macleod, a portion of it was stationed at the force’s detachment and horse ranch at Pincher Creek. He was part of the second contingent of the nine-man crew assigned to establish this important horse-breeding outpost during the autumn of 1878.
The Montreal-raised constable assisted with felling timbers in the Christie Mine Ridge area to the southwest of the force’s ranch; these were used for its outbuildings and corrals. Bruneau also assisted with raising the herd of horses, numbering over 200, which had been trailed into the ranch that fateful autumn.
Upon his honourable discharge from the NWMP, Bruneau quickly settled in the Pincher Creek area.
During the late summer of 1884, he was one of three candidates (the others being Max Brouillette and George Ives) to place contract bids to courier via stagecoach the Dominion Postal Service mail between the newly established post office at Pincher Creek and its neighbour to the east, Fort Macleod. He offered to do the work for an annual fee of $900 but it was Ives’s quote of $600 that was accepted.
Homestead south of Pincher Creek
Bruneau quickly found his new calling in the local ranching industry. He established a homestead in Section 7, Township 4, Range 28, West of the Fourth Meridian. It was situated in the Yarrow District, just east of the point where Yarrow Creek flows into the Waterton River. Bruneau operated a successful cattle ranch there until he sold it circa 1900 to Reginald Windham and Robert Wright, who specialized in raising horses.
Bruneau’s family included his wife, the former Mary Ann Berry, best known as Annie, who was a dozen years younger than he. She was born March 28, 1868, in Ontario as the fifth child and eldest daughter in the William and Emma Berry family. They moved west in 1884 to establish a homestead in the Chipman Creek district and an early hardware store in Pincher Creek, known as Wm. Berry and Son.
James Bruneau and Mary Berry were wed in Pincher Creek in December 1887 and had two children: a son, Charles H., who was born Oct. 4, 1888, and a daughter, Edna M., whose birth was dated Jan. 29, 1890. Eventually there were several grandchildren, some of whom lived in Washington state.
James Bruneau passed away on Christmas Day 1919. He was 63.
Research sources accessed for this history article included the North West Mounted Police personnel records, housed at Library and Archives Canada, and the Dominion of Canada Census for 1911.