Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mother's Day Trip to O’Keefe Ranch near Vernon, British Columbia


O’Keefe Ranch is an historic attraction with original buildings from a cattle ranch begun on the site in 1867 – the year of Canadian federation.

Cornelius O’Keefe and his partners Thomas Wood and Thomas Greenhow arrived in the west a bit too late to stake a good claim in the Cariboo gold rush. So they decided to feed those miners instead, and started driving cattle north from the United States. They settled down on the ranch, and raised cattle on 160 acres each of land.

Three Women

Most histories of the ranch focus on the cattle business of the ranch and its development. But if you take the tour of the mansion and listen to the story of the O’Keefe family, you’ll discover the ranch is really the story of three women.

Cornelius O’Keefe had a relationship with a First Nations woman, Rosie, near the beginning of his ranch endeavour. They had two children together. For whatever reason, Rosie later left the ranch and returned to her family with the children.

Did she leave because she had tired of ranch life? Did the ever-increasing numbers of additional white settlers look down on their arrangement? Was it because Mr. O’Keefe had claimed more land that her tribe had considered their own? Or was she suddenly presented with a new Mrs. O’Keefe? The social conventions have changed since Rosie’s time, but one thing stays true: no woman likes to be put aside for another.

With his first wife Mary Ann, imported from his hometown in Ontario, Mr. O’Keefe had nine more children. One has to wonder whether she knew about her husband’s other children, and how she felt about it. It must have been difficult leaving her home to travel thousands of miles to live in a near wilderness. After her death, another trip to Ontario by Mr. O’Keefe resulted in another wife Elizabeth, though she was only 23 and her husband 63. They had six children together. Doing the math… that is a total of 17 children!

Balmoral one room schoolhouse, 1912

The one room schoolhouse is a treasure. My first school was only two rooms, and some of the items were familiar.  My first teacher also had a large “Dick and Jane” book that she would hold at the front of the class to teach children to read. My first desk also had a hole in the top where the inkwell used to sit.

While we were there, another visiting senior remarked she had been a grade one teacher for 41 years! I bet that woman has some stories to tell. I heard her remark that the students used to “look forward” to having their backside swatted by the teacher on their birthdays, one swat for each year. Hmmm… I think I’d rather just have people sing “Happy Birthday”, thanks.

St. Anne’s Church, 1889

The small church (pictured above) is the subject of a current fund-raising drive for needed repairs. The adjacent graveyard is worth a look to reflect on the final resting place of the original families who carved a living from this once-wild place. Especially touching is little Faber’s grave, Elizabeth’s first child who died from meningitis at age six.

If you go

Open from Mother’s Day in May until Thanksgiving in October, 10 am to 5 pm daily (until 6 in July and August).

Location: 12 km north of Vernon in the Township of Spallumcheen, British Columbia

Admission Price (2014): Adults $13.50, Seniors $12, Children (13 – 18 yrs) $10, (6-12) $8.50, (5 and under) free

Things to do and see: O’Keefe mansion, Cattleman’s Club restaurant (very tasty down home cooking), general store (sells candy), farm animals (including several rare poultry breeds and a cranky sheep), handmade pottery, vintage farm machinery, tractor-pulled hay rides, model railroad, church, and special events such as murder mystery nights and cowboy festival.

Visitor tip: Closed toe shoes are best for walking the gravel, earth and wooden plank walkways.

Website: http://www.okeeferanch.ca

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