History of Mt. St Francis

The History of Mount St. Francis By a Franciscan Friar 

(Based on facts and figures presented in the booklet entitled: “Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre” prepared by Roy Farran, Glenn Plats, Terry Cioni, Fern Bentz and Rose Herard.)

 One of the early pioneers in the area was Charles Wellington Fisher. He was born near London, Ontario in 1871. He arrived in Cochrane in 1899. He became the leading merchant. He bought the Merino Ranch, which was sold to Countess Bubna, daughter of the Duchess of Sutherland. 

In 1907 Charles Fisher married Marjorie Powell. He promised to build her a castle. He purchased a large ranch, which included Big Hill or Manachaban. It is now called Mount St. Francis. He built the country house on the crest of the wooded bluff above Big Hill Creek. This building is now part of the Retreat Centre. 

Charles Fisher died in 1919 from influenza – the Spanish Flu. Tom Fisher, his brother occupied the Big Hill Ranch until 1932 when it was sold. It became the Just Home Guest Ranch and was owned by the McConachie family. 

In October 1948 Friar Alphonse Claude Laboissiere, newly elected Franciscan provincial commissioner, visited Bishop Carroll of Calgary. Bishop Carroll asked if the Friars would open a retreat house in his diocese. In 1948 the bishop sent Msgr. LeFort to show the Franciscans some land for sale on the banks of the Bow River. This land was considered unsuitable. It was worth $75,000.00 

Msgr. Le Fort then approached the McConachie’s who wanted to sell their ranch for $92,000.00 without the cattle.

 In January 1949, a Calgary realtor, Clair J. Cote, advised the bishop that McConachie’s Ranch was to be sold to an American gentleman for $184,000.00, house and land. This American’s wife died suddenly and the sale was off. McConachie would now sell the house without the 1500 acres of land and the cattle. Next day the deal was off. Mrs. McConachie couldn’t leave her home. On January 28, three days later, Mrs. McConachie became seriously ill and negotiations were open again. 

In March 10, 1949 the purchase by the Franciscans of 171 acres including the mansion was complete. Another 165 acres was also bought from Mr. McConachie, which included Manachaban Hill and ravine slope. 

On April 21, 1949 Mr. Clair Cote used the commission he had earned from the vendors of the McConachie Ranch to purchase the extra 165 acres, which he donated, to the Retreat. 

On July 8, 1949, Friar Timothy Gilker became the first of the resident retreat leaders. 

On August 14, 1949, Bishop Carrol blessed Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre. 

On April 26, 1950, the Sisters of St. Elizabeth moved into their convent adjacent to the Centre. 

In June 1950, Clair Cote purchased another 25 acres of land owned by Mr. Fisher and donated it to the Franciscans.

This article is from the churches section in More Big Hill Country.

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