Mount Royal Ranch

Big Hill Country Page 328

In 1881 A. P. Patrick, a Dominion Government surveyor took out a lease of five thousand acres along the Ghost River about four miles north of the Bow River. He called it the Mount Royal Ranch and it was the first privately owned ranch in the area. At that time the Government allowed large leases to be taken out for a cent an acre. A homestead could be established on the leases if there was ample water supply; naturally, most early settlers built their houses and stables near good springs and creeks. After obtaining his lease and erecting the necessary buildings required, A. P. Patrick went to Eastern Canada and purchased two hundred head of stock to put on the lease. The cattle were shipped as far as Winnipeg and then trailed overland to the ranch. The drive from Winnipeg took six months. In 1883 A. P. Patrick took Mr. Bayne into partnership with him on the Mount Royal. In September of that year, Frank Ricks arrived from Oregon with two hundred and fifty head of horses for the ranch. They had been purchased from D. E. Gilman and Company in Oregon. Frank Ricks started north with the herd in May and came through the Crows Nest Pass and then along the foothills. The drive ended in September. Frank remained working for the Mount Royal and became well known as an outstanding rider of the area. 

A.P. Patrick married Maggie McPherson, daughter of Murdoch McPherson who came into the area in 1884. In 1886 they sold the ranch to W. C. Wells and Nelson Brown. Mr. Wells owned a sawmill at Palliser, British Columbia, and he did not spend much time on the ranch. A. P. Patrick had been concentrating on raising horses but Wells and Brown decided to change over to cattle. They brought five hundred head from British Columbia and added to the herd they had purchased with the ranch. The following winter was extremely cold and many of the cattle that were brought from British Columbia perished. 

Around 1887 Donald Peter McDonald went to work on the Mount Royal and at that time Frank Sibbald, son of Andrew Sibbald of Morleyville, was the ranch foreman. In 1890 D. P. McDonald became ranch foreman and in 1901 he made an agreement with Wells and Brown to take over the ranch and he eventually became the owner of it. After Mr. Wells sold out his interest in the ranch, he entered politics in British Columbia and became a member of the Legislature there. A grandson of D. P. McDonald, Jaye Bowlen, is now operating the Mount Royal Ranch. 

SMOKEY — by K. Bowlen 

In the early 1900s, my father, D. P. McDonald, bought some horses from W. D. Kerfoot of Grand Valley, and Smokey was one of the horses. He was by the Thoroughbred horse, Porton, out of a hackney mare. In his younger days, he was generally esteemed as one of the smartest and handiest cow ponies on the range. 

I really don’t know how Smokey’s jumping ability was discovered, but he would jump out of the corral whenever he felt like it. I think the credit will have to go to Tom McCaul, a young Irish boy, who came to work at the ranch. Anyway, Tom and Smokey made their jumping debut at the Calgary Exhibition in 1908, clearing the bar at 5’6″. After very little training, the next year he raised his mark by four inches. In 1910 he jumped 6’2”. 

In 1911 at the spring show in the old Sherman Rink on 17th Avenue and Centre Street, Miss Bernice Walsh rode him over a 6’2” bar; incidentally, that was a world’s record for Miss Walsh as an amateur lady high jump rider. In 1912 Smokey jumped 6’2″‘; he was ridden by Angus McPherson of the Merino Ranch, who weighed 165 pounds. That was the first time Angus McPherson had ever ridden him. In 1913, ridden by a stranger, he quit at 5’10” and was beaten by Sioux who made six feet. At the following exhibition, ridden by Jack Hennessey, he cleared 6’3”. Between these two shows, he got the only real training he ever had. At the Edmonton show, he was ridden out by Percy Sawtelle at five feet. After the Edmonton show, he was turned out and not touched until February, then he was taken up and jumped on the line. At the Edmonton show the first week in April 1914, Smokey cleared 6’10” ridden by Percy Sawtelle (a jockey). After that a lot of people wanted my father to retire him, but the old horse went on to jump 7 feet, which was a record for an Alberta bred horse. Smokey’s record of 7 feet held until 1930 when Rolla G. Kripp, ridden by Ernie Bell, jumped 7 feet.

Smokey was retired in 1915 and died on the ranch at age 26. Percy Sawtelle went to war in the summer of 1914 and was killed in action in 1915.



Weather permitting, there was a picnic held every year on May 24, at the Mount Royal Ranch owned by Mr. and Mrs. D. P. McDonald. The site was about a mile southeast of the ranch buildings. The night prior to the picnic our barn was always bulging with horses that would be contesting the next day. At first, my mother did all the cooking for the event, but it wasn’t long until everyone brought food. Tablecloths were spread on the ground, the food set out, and tea and coffee were served. After lunch, there were foot races for the children and grown-ups, pole vaulting, high jumping, a few horse races, and a tug of war. It gradually got bigger and from 1936 on, it was all horse races, with many novelty events added. People came from near and far to take part. In 1946 the gymkhana was moved to Cochrane, thus, ending one of the yearly events that was looked forward to each year and had been enjoyed by so many.

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