Ranching on the Bottom of a Lake


Ranching on the Bottom of a Lake


Ranching on the Bottom of a Lake


ON a certain day somewhat better than a decade ago a white man, clad in the garb of a pioneer, roamed back and forth around the ragged shores of a wild-looking, mud-bottomed lake in the heart of a gigantic hinterland—a wilderness of hill-flanked plains studded with wooded bluffs which is known today as the Grande Prairie country of Northern Alberta.

The lake was I shallow—a circumstance the pioneer had ascertained by soundings made from his canoe—and its waters covered the major portion of a valley of magnificent sweep, named by Indian hunters the “Kleskun,” orl“Fat Cache”—a place where there was always plenty of grazing wild game.

The lone white man, with patient thoroughness, explored the immediate surroundings of the lake, examining the black muck of the soggy places where his legs often sank in the ooze to the tops of his high elk boots. In the drier wallows he scrutinized very closely the luxuriant wild grasses and he evinced a curious interest in estimating the number of moose and deer that had been feeding there from the frequency of the “sleeping yards” he came upon in the sheltered places.

Havinglmade alcircuit of the lake, the man journeyed up into'the hills to the North and from'alpoint of vantage studied the country for certain details. Not that he did not already know the exact location of the lake and its environs, forlhe was quite familiar with the fact that it stood at the head waters of Kleskun Creek which empties into the Smoky River a good eighty miles as the crow flies from the Smoky’s confluence with the Peace in the farther North. What he was studying was the possibility of removing that lake by the simple but efficient aid of gravity.

Pioneer Par Excellence

JAMES KENNEDY CORNWALL—for the pioneer was none other than the famous'Canadian exploreradventurer “following the gleam” on the frontiers of the unknown—in his fur-trading activities among the Indians had frequently heard the red men tell of this wonderful grazing ground where the moose and the deer grew'fattest in the shortest time of anywhere in all the North Country. This personal investigation proved to his own satisfaction that'the soil was exceptionally rich, and the grasses'which grew there in such abundance substantiated all the Indians had said. Jim Cornwall had what the trail-packers call a “hunch.” That “hunch” was that the bottom of the lake would provide the most desirable of grass and agricultural country—and that the lake could be drained away.

When, Colonel Jim Cornwall,! "the Apostle of the North,” returned to civilization to tell the world of Canada’s new vast empire of resources, hundreds of miles beyond the zones of railways already built, he gained for a long time but a very indifferent hearing. His schemes, including that for the development of the Kleskun country, met not only with mild ridicule but with Organized opposition in some quarters. How Colonel Cornwall finally did succeed in starting a flow of settlers into the Grande Prairie and Peace River countries and the high-lights of his eventful career from the time he left his native Brantford,

¡Ontario, to become, in turn,

¿newsboy, railway construction man, hunter, trapper,

Overman, mail-carrier, dogdriver, packeteer, great lakes and deep-sea sailormah, explorer, waterways investigator and later legislator, soldier, winner of the D.S.O. and captain of industry, would make a mighty interesting story in itself. The lure of distant heights-ofland, of unexplored plains and forests, of lonely lakes

and mighty rivers seems always to have gripped this man. But at this juncture the colorful Jim Cornwall passes out of the Kleskun lake narrative.

’ I 'RANSPORTATION projects on the lakes and rivers -*• of the Peace River country had swallowed up the time and attention of the “Apostle of the North” when ten

years later there came to the shore of the same mud lake at the head of Kleskun Creek a keen-eyed, stockily-built man with great, drooping blonde moustaches like a Viking. This Norse-Canadian was Edmund Thomson, a land-guide and soil-taster, rated one of the foremost experts at investigating farm and ranch possibilities in Western Canada.

Thomson, who operates a 5,000-acre farm of his own near Camrose, Alta., actually tests soil by the sense of taste and the feel of the clay or loam against histeeth and his tongue. By that means he can almost instantly detect the presence of the elements which promote fertility and vigor'in land. He is so fond of good soil that he hates to have it brushed from the rough clothes he goes land-scouting in. A story is told by his associates that Thomson, while traveling on the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia railway, got out of his berth one morning and failed to locate his shoes. Being hungry and quite certain that some other passenger had appropriated his footwear in mistake he hustled on to the dining-car in his sock-feet. He was followed by the colored porter who was carrying a glittering pair of shoes which Thomson insisted were not

“Yas sah, yas sah,” cried the porter, “dem sure are youah boots, Mistah Thomson—I done cleaned the mud off dem and shined ’em up.”

A roar went up from Thomson’s friends in the diner and the land-scout, finally identifying the shoes through a piece of binder twine that did duty in one of them in lieu of a lace, made a hasty retreat to the pullman where he handed the porter the largest tip he had seen in many moons. Any man who could remove the variegated clays from his scouting boots, he said, deserved it.

Edmund Thomson went North to test the soil in the Kleskun country on behalf of a company of Canadians, which included besides himself, M. Sheady, retired rail-

way contractor, James Pike, business man, Frank Pike, banker, and Hon. V. M. Smith,'Minister of Railways in the Alberta Legislature.

When Thomson first saw Kleskun Lake there were white caps breaking over it and the weather was too rough to venture out in a canoe or boat. But the land-scout immediately set about exploring the country roundabout, and when the storm had died down he took soundings all over the lake. His tests of the soil taken from the lake bottom and from the land on its shores proved it to be the richest sort of black loam with a clay sub-soil. The top layer of earth is identical in appearance with that used for potting hot-house vegetables.

Then They Drained the Lake

AFTER a couple of weeks spent at the lake, Thomson returned to his associates and enthusiastically declared he was willing to invest every spare cent of his own money to help develop the property, and, when the engineers engaged to investigate made a report that the lake could be drained dry into the Smoky River, Frank Pike organized the company that is now known as Kleskun Ranch, Limited. Edmund Thomson was elected president, and to the directorate were added the following Boston, Mass., capitalists who took a fifty per cent, interest in the ranch after their own engineers and land experts had made an investigation: John Bowditch, banker;'Cochrane Harper and Company, bankers; Charles W. Perkins, and Charles Adams, the latter being the well known skipper of the “Resolute.” The company was organized with an authorized capital of $600,000, of which $525,000 is paid up.

Organization was completed in 1918 and development of'the property was’commenc-

eci wjOiout a day’s delay,

Continued on page 38

Ranching on the Bottom of a Lake

Continued from page 19

The object in view was to establish a

46.000 acre cattle ranch capable of producing fat cattle of the highest quality for shipment to the British market. The lake was emptied by means of a drainage system costing $100,000, thus reclaiming 18,400 acres of land of almost inexhaustible fertility. To this was added 1,600 acres adjacent, which the company purchased to complete the 20,000 acres they had in mind for the southern portion of the ranch. Since then they have leased

25.000 acres northeast of the Kleskun property, making the ranch 45,000 acres all told, one of the largest propositions of its kind under the British flag.

Buildings Replace Waves

THE 'West has a penchant 'for doing things with despatch. The last trickle of Kleskun Lake had barely seeped away through the great man-made drain when buildings and fences commenced to go up on the site where white-capped waves rolled the year before. Mechanical monsters whose like that region had never before seen, woke strange staccato echoes from the surrounding hills as they labored back and forth, tearing and rending the primitive face of nature and filling the air with the faint but wholesome odor 'that comes from newly-cultivated land.

Next came lowing herds of peaceful Herefords with broad white faces and lumbering gait to browse where the pacing

moose and nimble, finicky deer had fattened on the rich natural grasses in the recent past. Men and horses came too; men in “chaps” and Stetson hats, astride wiry little ponies that reared and careened where the “wild white horses” of the floods from the hills had washed and held undisputed sway for centuries.

The dream that came whispering to Colonel Jim Cornwall as he strode through the marshy wilderness a decade and a half ago was swiftly weaving itself into reality. The spearhead of civilization was being driven deep into the Grande Prairie country.

That is not to say that the principals of the Kleskun Ranch, Limited, were the original pioneers of the Grande Prairie country, for they were not by any means. Sons of Eastern Canadians and Americans who inherited the restless urge of the pioneer had long since penetrated this northern empire to points three hundred miles and more northwest of Edmonton. They had taken the trail north of Edmonton when only the Indians and a few hardbitten white men knew how to follow the paths that led up into the Land of the Winking Night.

They packed it in over the old Athabaska Trail when every pound of supplies and every bit of equipment had to be hauled on sleds drawn by dogs or on the backs of men. They obtained their homesteads. built their shacks and eked out an existence from year to year patiently

waiting for the day when a railway from the South would give them an outlet to the markets of the world. Railways did come at last into some sections and in others not so fortunate there are pioneers who still wait and hope.

When the Railroad Came

THOSE are the men and the women to whom all credit is due for the recognition that is gradually developing as to the worth of the North. Those whose feet first traveled through the dangers and difficulties of the wilderness to prove the possibilities of a hinterland—the men who “stuck it out” with blind faith in the future - and their Canada—-those are the people who proved up the North and made such colossal developments as the Kleskun Ranch possible.

On the other hand, the Kleskun Ranch Limited devised andfinanced the first proposition on a gigantic scale to be established in the region of “the last free land in the British Empire.” A railway—the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia road, recently taken over to be operated by the Canadian Pacific—now runs north to Sexsmith, a point five miles west of the Kleskun Ranch and two hundred and forty miles northwest of Edmon-

The fertility of the soil in the former lake bed and its immediate surroundings exceeded the expectations of the men who had invested their money in its development. It is not their intention to cultivate any grains or grasses except those they can use for feeding their stock on the ranch; but several hundred acres of oats which they sowed the first year after the land was broken yielded no less than one hundred and twenty bushels to the acre. That is, of course, thr.e times the average yield of oats taken off fairly good land. Outside of the territory on the ranch set aside for grazing purposes, the land under cultivation for the production of fattening grasses is capable of yielding ten thousand tons of “Red Top” and “Blue Joint” hay each year.

Aided by the Chinook

THE Kleskun Ranch is divided into five camps, the Home Camp being located on Kleskun Creek in the heart of the twenty thousand acres that was once a marsh and lake, the leased ranch of twenty-five thousand acres lying to the east and extending north to the banks of the Bad Heart River. In almost all respects the ranch has proved ideal for the purpose of raising and fattening cattle. Each of the five camps is located in the centre of a heavy growth of scrub timber, which in winter protects them from the winds, and each has near it a never-failing spring of fresh water. The temperature in that part of Canada is about the same as that in Edmonton, except that the Grande Prairie country is more favored with winter chinooks and stock feed out'in the open until as late as January 1. The first winter the ranch was in operation was the coldest that had been known in the Grande Prairie country in twentyfive years, but the cattle on the Kleskun ranch weathered it without a single loss.

In summer two range riders look after the cattle and in winter two men are employed in each of the camps drawing hay to the sheds where the beasts are sheltered. These sheds are built of poles covered with straw and have been found to be quite efficient in taking care of the herds during the cold weather.

It is not the intention of the ranch company to sell any beef cattle off the ranch until they have stocked their herds up to a maximum of seven to eight thousand head, which the president says will take at least five years. He declares that the ranch is quite capable of taking care of ten thousand head, and it is the intention of the company not only to run the cattle on the range and fatten them, but also to "finish them off” to the perfection that will command a prime place on the British markets.

At the present time there are on the ranch nearly two thousand head of breeding stock; the herd was started a couple of years ago with a .nucleus of nine hundred head of thoroughbred Hereford cows and thirty pure bred bulls. A complete equipment for ranching and farming purposes has been installed and fifty head of work and riding horses are kept on the premises. General Jack Stewart, who has visited most parts of the habitable globe

during his active career, was among the | recent visitors to the Kleskun Ranch and the Grande Prairie country. He says that he knows of no more beautiful district anywhere in the world nor of any so well adapted to ranching and farming.

More Railroads Hoped For

RAILWAYS are what the North most stands in need of. The Canadian Pacific has taken over the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia railway which now taps sections of the Grande Prairie and Peace River districts, but what the people up there look forward to with the greatest expectations is the possibility of a railway from Grande Prairie to Vancouver. They point out that Vancouver is only about eight hundred miles awaj' and a down haul all the way.

Though isolated for many years through lack of railways and traffic highways, the people of the Grande Prairie and Peace River'districts pride themselves on keeping up-to-date and in touch with what is going on in other parts of the world. They are an open-hearted, sincere type who scorn locks for their doors. Law-breaking is the exception rather than the rule up

The wild misconceptions of the North and its people Eastern people get through certain types of fiction and moving picture stories presented by publishers and producers across the .line, are aptly illustrated by a story told by Frank Pike, one of the original promoters of the Kleskun Ranch enterprise.

It seems that when Mr. Pike and his associates were endeavoring to interest Boston capital in taking a half interest in the ranching proposition a party of representatives of the Boston men went up with their engineers to look the ground over. When they reached a point north of Edmonton, the Americans were on the anxious watchout for “natives”—that is, hunters, trappers and gunmen going about with rifles over the crooks of their arms and revolvers and sheath-knives dangling from their belts. They were somewhat disillusioned, not to say disappointed, at meeting so many persons in the wilds who seemingly carried no weapons whatever. Still, they had it in the backs of their minds that somewhere up in this country they must come across real desperadoes. An odd Mounted Policeman who had acquired the habit of living up to the poses he’s seen of his kind in the pictures was about the full reward they seemed destined to obtain for their patience.

The Arsenal from Boston

ONE night the party stopped at a settler’s shack. The lady of the house informed them that she expected another stranger, and, sure enough, late that evening when the Boston men were about to retire, there came a soft thud of hoofs up the miry trail to the door of the shack. Unceremoniously, two very desperatelooking characters burst in. The one was an uncouth-looking chap garbed in a mackinaw and wearing a ferocious week’s growth of beard. The other was a younger man in fawn-colored riding-breeches, laced brown boots, a lurid shirt open at the throat and a makinaw coat with gaudy colors in it Joseph of old might have envied. He carried a repeating rifle and the butts of two murderous-looking revolvers protruded from leather holsters swung from a bright yellow belt bristling with high-power cartridges. The young man strode over to the kitchen table, divested himself of his private arsenal and he and his companion made away with a man-size supper each. The Boston men quietly made their way to their rooms.

Next morning when the Boston men got up they found that the picturesque stranger and his companion had had breakfast and departed. Certain that the young fellow 'must have been a district “bad man,”, they inquired of the lady of the house about him.

“Oh, him with all the pistols?” She .smiled. “Why he’s some young fellow from j down in the States—Boston I think he I comes from—that Hank Davis is taking ! North to look over some property. The j poor boy must be afraid he’ll meet dangerous characters up this way.”

So it was that the Boston men did meet j the sort of character they had seen in the motion pictures of the North Country I but it happened that the “character” j came from their own city!