Agness Hammond

Ghost River Ranch by Agness Hammond pg 314 Big Hill Country 1977

My sister Tilda and I bought the Ghost River Ranch from the Gillies family in the early 1930s. We had a couple of saddle horses and needed somewhere to keep them. For a while we boarded horses, then I bought my first cow and calf from Mrs. Roland Gissing for the large sum of ten dollars! After that I used to get newborn calves from the dairy at Canmore, bringing them home tied in sacks, in the back of the old car. 

We also raised horses, among them, little “Chick,” who won many stake races, and “The Bard,” who went to shows throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan, winning many jumping classes. 

My brand is Reversed F, Hanging Y, which was originally issued to my grandfather in the 1880s. 

In 1941 Tilda left for India, where she married Captain Hugh Millar, and where they spent most of the War years. They then returned to Canada, and their son, Torchy, was born in Calgary. Afterwards, they were stationed in various parts of England and Canada, and I bought out Tilda’s share of the ranch. 

Having horses wherever they were stationed, Torchy naturally took to riding and has represented Canada at two Olympics, being on the team that won the Gold Medal in 1968. He also won an individual Bronze Medal. 

Tilda and her husband are now retired and have a quarter section of the ranch where they have built their home, “Runaway Hill.” 

During the years I built up the cattle herd, with the help of the people who worked for me. George Hope, the long-time blacksmith of Cochrane, was probably the first. Elmer and Mamie Pratt were here for several years, and Elmer broke most of my Belgian horses. Another family, the Morrises, had five children. The children attended Beaupré School, and drove “Tom” in the buggy; when he retired they drove “Old Cush,” whom we borrowed from Poynters. 

We have had many pleasant visits with our country neighbours. I remember driving in the buggy to Helen McDonald’s and always being invited in for fresh baked buns or cake. It was Helen, who, with me, started the Ghost River Pony Club gymkhana. The first one was held in the field in front of the ranch house, and was primarily for junior riders, as we felt all other shows had little to attract the young. 

We rode up to Guy Gibson’s to enquire about his handmade furniture and were immediately invited in for a cup of tea. Finding no milk in the house, he grabbed the cream jug, ran outside, and filled it from his goat. Guy built my beautiful log cabin, which burned to the ground some years later, and Steve Hope (George’s brother) made all the hand-wrought latches and hinges that decorated the cabin. 

Jack and Tootie Poynter were always ready to go on a midnight ride or on a wiener roast. Enie Gissing always greeted us when we walked down the hill to look at Roland’s paintings. The Gissings spent two years in our little cottage while building their new home after the fire which destroyed so many of Roland’s paintings. George and Norma Pocaterra would often stop in on their way to their cabin up the river. 

For several years I ran a summer camp for girls, teaching them how to ride and care for their horses. 

Besides raising and showing horses, I raised and showed dogs all over Canada and the United States. Many of them won championships and obedience degrees.

Ernie Pratt sweeping hay at the Ghost River Ranch

I have been actively involved with the Calgary S.P.C.A., the Alberta S.P.C.A. and many other humane associations. 

Throughout the years I have done paintings and sculpturing which have gone to various parts of Canada, the United States and England. 

Recently I started a museum of horse artifacts on the ranch. 

The first edition of the Calgary Herald, dated August 31, 1883, had an advertisement describing “land lying north of the Bow River and east of the Ghost River” as a horse ranch containing the best winter grazing east of the Rockies. As I am now raising Welsh ponies, I like to feel that it is still a horse ranch, with the best winter grazing east of the Rockies. 

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