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The Ranch Owners

Senator Matthew Henry Cochrane, Compton, Quebec, 1823-1903. President of Cochrane Ranche Company. Called to Senate October 17, 1872. Portrait view. Most of the ranch owners and managers in Alberta in the 1880s and 1890s had come from a life of relative ease and privilege. While many homesteaders arrived in Alberta as a result of economic hardships, the aspiring rancher in western Canada typically had both money and, in most cases, higher education and professional skills. Some had come from the ranges of Montana and were already skilled ranch-hands, but just as many were British gentlemen - young, adventurous, and possessed of some financial means. The owner may even have been a member of the recently-arrived Northwest Mounted Police. For vanguard ranching scholars like Lewis G. Thomas, the first "well-off" settlers, though maligned and stereotyped over the years, gave the Canadian west an important degree of economic and cultural stability. They were on the first school boards, and on the board of directors for the first general hospital. They invested in manufacturing and utilities, and supported small town agricultural associations and businesses. Their daily life, though at times difficult, was characterized most often by comfort and faithfulness to English custom. Most ranchers did well in the city - they participated in politics and were, because of an inherited sense of belonging, perhaps some of the most successful entrepreneurs.

The Canadian government had more pressing motives, however, for welcoming the young, Briton rancher - however inexperienced - onto the range. From the example of the States, the federal government knew that the western frontier had the potential to be a place of tumult and even violence. A peaceful, orderly society would need to be established, and the British ranch owner fit nicely with that plan. Interested in recreating a version of the genteel, well-defined society from whence they had come, the ideal rancher was part of an elite class of western-Canadian citizens, whose civic involvement and leisure activities were reminiscent of the British lifestyle, but also uniquely determined and inspired by their new environment.

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  • The Mexico Ranch - Lord Beresford had ranched in Mexico, so when he came to the badlands of Alberta, he named his cattle operation the Mexico Ranch. Hear more about the history of this fascinating site.
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  • Sheridan Lawrence Ranch - When Henry Lawrence first came to the Peace River area, the area had not even been opened for settlement. But in a few years, he had both a family and a successful ranching operation.
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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.