Merino Ranch

CHAPS first history book has a history of the Merino Ranch that used to exist west of town. I’d only recently learned of the Countess Bubna so its interesting to hear more of her story.

MERINO RANCH — by Margaret Buckley 

It is believed that J. A. W. Fraser homesteaded part of the property later known as the Merino Ranch.

In 1891, Frank White purchased the SE and SW14 of section 2-26-5-5. Here he raised a large herd of Merino sheep and gave the Merino Ranch its name. Prior to Frank’s purchase of land, he resided in a shack and had some sheep sheds built on SE114 13-25-5-5. It was here his sheep grazed on the hills and valleys near the Jumping Pound Creek in 1890 when the land surveyors came through the area. 

Around the turn of the century, Frank found it impossible to raise sheep profitably. Cattlemen were enjoying a boom, with over 1300 head being shipped from Cochrane in 1900 and 1901. The Boer War kept the horse market healthy. During this time Frank, the only sheep rancher of any size, disposed of his stock as he had been losing money steadily during the 1890s. He sold the ranch to C. W. Fisher in 1901.

Mr. Fisher imported a herd of Shorthorn cattle to stock the ranch but when he entered political life, he sold the ranch to A. McPherson. Mr. Fisher then purchased the property now known as the St. Francis Retreat.

In 1910, Mr. McPherson sold the cattle and went into the raising of horses. He was appointed one of the captains of the first Polo Club formed in Cochrane in 1909. W. Hutchinson was the other captain. Mr. McPherson also had holdings in the Argentine. He married Mary “Dumpy” Ritchie, daughter of Dr. T. Ritchie, and in 1912 sold the ranch to Countess Bubna for thirty-six thousand dollars. The McPhersons moved to the Argentine where two sons and two daughters were born. The children were raised in the Argentine but the McPhersons returned to Cochrane in 1929 to visit Mary’s sister, Rena (Mrs. Archie Howard). On this visit, they brought a parrot from Rio de Janeiro. The parrot swore in Spanish and was left with Rena in Cochrane when the McPhersons returned to their home. McPherson’s’ sons were killed in two separate car accidents, one year apart, in the Argentine. One daughter, Betty Risso, passed away in Toronto in 1974. Their other daughter, Lucy Feldman, resides in the U.S.A.

In 1912, the Countess Bubna appointed E. L. McBride manager of the ranch. She imported a number of English Shire horses, considered to be the best quality heavy horses ever brought into Alberta. She also owned the first tractor in the country. 

Countess Bubna had two very talented daughters and after arriving at the ranch the Chapman Brothers, from Cochrane, were hired to build their beautiful home. The ceilings were 16 feet high and the house had a skylight. The rooms were built in a circle, leading to a living room furnished with lovely furniture from England bearing the English family crest. 

During the time the Countess owned the Merino Ranch, she added to her holdings considerably. There were a number of homesteaders who wanted to move, so she bought their land from them and built the ranch into a going concern. She stocked it with cattle and proved a very capable businesswoman. 

Alex MacKay and his wife Annabell worked for many years for the Countess. 

Having come originally from London, England, the Countess was a very interesting person. She was the daughter of the Duchess of Sutherland and the step-daughter of the Duke of Sutherland. She married an Austrian Count and in 1911 came to Canada to buy a ranch, satisfying an early ambition. It was hoped that the Count would be able to join her in this country, but due to the International situation at that time, he was not allowed to enter Canada 

The Countess and her daughters spent the summers on the ranch and the winters in the U.S.A. While at the ranch, she made many friends in the district. After operating the ranch until 1922, she traded it to Malcolm McLennan for his 7000-acre ranch a few miles south of Vernon, British Columbia. In addition to receiving a substantial amount of cash, Mr. McLennan took over the 4500-acre ranch and 500 head of cattle. 

The Countess’ ranch in Vernon was known as the Postill Ranch and was considered to be one of the best properties in the Okanagan. She remained in British Columbia for a short time, then went to Egypt so she could be near her husband. She devoted herself to writing a play but died before it was finished. 

Mr. McLennan operated the Merino Ranch and during his ownership added another 2500 acres. He had bought the ranch for his son but the son was thrown from his horse and killed instantly. As Mr. McLennan had no further interest in the ranch after his son’s death, he sold the ranch to Ralph Coppock and on October 20, 1930, he moved to the U.S.A. 

Ralph Clifton Coppock was born in Merriam, Kansas, and ranched west of High River from 1911 to 1918 when he sold his property to F. J. Hartell. The village of Hartell was formed on the property later. He lived in High River from 1918 1927 when he and his family moved to Madden, Alberta, where he ranched until 1929. 

After purchasing the Merino Ranch in 1931, he built up the 7000-acre ranch into an enterprising concern. He bred up an outstanding herd of commercial Hereford cattle and in his feedlots, produced a quality product that found favour on the South St. Paul and Chicago markets. He also topped the market in Vancouver, in the 1940s with a shipment of 110 steers from his feedlot. Along with his cattle operation, Mr. Coppock developed a hog operation, where he marketed 250 bacon-type hogs annually. He cultivated 800 acres of his own land but every year purchased thousands of bushels of grain from neighbours in the Cochrane area for his feedlot. He also bought feeder steers to supplement the steers produced on his own ranch. Mr. Coppock was a member of the King Solomon Lodge A.F. and A.M. in Cochrane and the Western Stock Growers Association. 

Mr. and Mrs. Coppock had three sons, R. C Coppock Jr., Kenneth and Gerald and one daughter, Dorothy. Mrs. Coppock passed away in 1940 and Mr. Coppock in 1943. 

C. Coppock Jr., (Clifton) attended Palo Alto University and was a banker. He married Marion Crawford, daughter of Dr. Crawford and niece of Arthur and Ethel Crawford. 

Ken was secretary-manager of the Western Stock Growers Association and editor of the Canadian Cattleman magazine. He then owned and operated Kenway’s Saddle and Western Wear store in Calgary. 

Dorothy graduated from Palo Alto University and was a singer. She married Elwyn Bugge and they lived in Palo Alto, California. 

Gerald went to school at Cochrane, met and married Mary Rees, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Tom Rees. Gerald was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army Corps and after the passing of his father, he managed the Merino Ranch until 1946. 

The Merino Ranch was sold in 1946 to the Federal Government Department of Indian Affairs along with the adjoining acres of Arthur Crawford. This area became an extension of the Stoney Indian Reserve. The original log house, built-in 1881 was still standing and in livable condition at the time of the sale. 

A big auction sale was held to dispose of the possessions on the ranch, thus ending the era of the Merino Ranch of the Cochrane District. 

3 thoughts on “Merino Ranch”

  1. Frank White, who was married to my great grandfather’s sister Annie Anderson, started the Merino Ranch a bit earlier than this article states. On July 24, 1886 they herded his band of sheep across the railroad bridge at Mitford to the land he was granted after the dispute with Rev McDougall over the original land grant at Morleyville was resolved by Sir John A. MacDonald. This was the beginning of the Merino Ranch ,which by 1890 was running about 5000 head of sheep. Harold, their son, was born there on Dec. 17,1888.

    Reply
    • Excellent. Was the ranch north or south of the river? I’m trying to map the locations of some historic locations around Cochrane. I think it was on SW 14 26 5 W5 or 51.219826 -114.580037.

      Reply
      • We were trying to figure out its exact location last time I was at the Stockman library. It was on the south side of the river. The coordinates we thought we had were SE and SW 1/4 of section 2-26-5-5 and SE 1/4 13-25-5-5. I think I copied it right. Make any sense?

        Reply

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