Although many Calgarians have enjoyed a summer swim or a winter skate at Bowness Park, probably few of them realize that the City of Calgary received this beautiful park in trade for a streetcar.
While no one is certain where it came from, the name "Bowness" was originally the name of a large ranch in the area, which was settled in 1896. In 1908, John Hextall, an Englishman, came to Alberta looking for land to develop. He was immediately attracted by the natural beauty of the Bow River valley and returned to England to form the Bowness Land Development Company, with the intention of developing the district into an exclusive residential community.
When he came back to Calgary he subdivided the property into large treed lots and, at his own expense, built a bridge to connect the new community to Calgary. He also developed a park and a golf club that he hoped would attract wealthy investors. Future expansion required easy access to the city, so in 1911, Hextall signed an agreement with the City of Calgary by which the City received the islands of Bowness Park and in return extended the municipal streetcar service to the Bowness district. But this wasn't sufficient, and by the time Hextall died in 1914, only five of the grand homes he envisioned had been built.
As Europe became embroiled in the First World War, sources of investment dried up. The company that had issued grand plans for development now just wanted out of their commitment. Lots that had sold for $1,500 or more before the war were now available for payment of back taxes. Ironically, the collapse of Hextall's dream saved the community. Growth continued on a more modest scale until Bowness became a town in 1951. In 1964, the town was annexed by the City of Calgary.