the history of ALKALI ranch

bc's oldest cattle ranch

Alkali ranch today

Today the ranch is home to approximately 1550 - 1600 mother cows, a third of which are straight-bred Herefords, the other two thirds are crossbreds. Known for their ability to graze late into fall and winter while still maintaining their body condition, the Hereford breed is the base and lifeblood of the Alkali Lake Ranch cowherd. Alkali is a cowboy outfit, with all of the cattle work done on horseback. The deeded country is semi-desert with cactus, sagebrush and bunchgrass and the cowboys ride all sorts of different terrain. Dogs are definitely man’s best friend and helper here; some days the job would never get accomplished without the help of a good cattle dog. The majority of the dogs are border collies. The river country is steep and the summer range is forested and inaccessible by vehicle. Cowboys are a necessity. The ranch maintains a horse herd of approximately 70 head; they keep a stallion (Zan Parr Bar bred) and run up to a dozen brood mares. The ranch employs from 4 - 15 people depending on the time of year; they run a bunkhouse with a cook. Alkali Lake Ranch was awarded the BC Cattlemen’s Environmental Stewardship award several years ago for improvements to the feedlot that included fencing the cattle off from the creek, building ditches for runoff, and installing waterers for the cattle. Being environmentally aware is a responsibility this ranch is happy to shoulder.
Alkali Lake was privately sold to Douglas Lake Ranch, bringing these two historical ranches together April 2008.

alkali ranch was founded in the mid-1800s

The Valley of the Waving Bunchgrass or Paradise Valley are but two of the early names given by those early wanderers and settlers to the pretty valley that lies fifty kilometers southwest of Williams Lake, B.C. on the Dog Creek Road. It is the home of B.C.’s oldest cattle ranch. Alkali Lake Ranch can trace its origin back to the mid-1800s. It is now, and always has been, privately owned and operated. One such man who stayed was Herman Otto Bowe. He established a stopping house in what he called Paradise Valley and word soon spread about the quality of his establishment. It was so often described ‘as the place near the lake with the patch of alkali visible on the hillside’ that it is no wonder that it came to be called the Alkali Lake Ranch.

the beginning of the ranch

Bowe took a partner, John Koster and together they increased the cattle herd and the land base. They married sisters – local First Nations women from Esket (Alkali Lake) – and raised families. Later their sons, Henry Koster and Johnny Bowe operated the ranch. Young Koster is credited with acquiring the titles for many acres of ranchland that the elder pair had held without deed. In 1909, they sold out to Englishman, Charles Namby Wynn Johnson. Wynn Johnson significantly increased the land base buying out various neighbors and brought in some new blood, in the form of an American cowboss. Jim Turner had apprenticed under the famous Joe Coutlee of Douglas Lake Ranch, he was well into middle age when he came to Alkali and had considerable ‘cow sense’ and experience. The old way of doing things was tossed aside by Jim. Wynn Johnson, who was the grandfather of Chunky Woodward – owned the ranch throughout some of our country’s ugliest periods of history, the First World War and the following depression. He managed to survive those years but the struggle took its toll. In 1939, he sold to the von Riedemann family who fled Austria just prior to the war. Wynn Johnson and Mario Riedemann met each other in a Vancouver gentlemen’s club, Wynn Johnson convinced Mario to try ranching (Mario had been a sugar beet producer and a dairy owner in Austria). He brought his wife Elizabeth and four children: Karl, Myra, Sophie and Martin to Alkali Lake. Wynn Johnson agreed to stay on as an advisor – it was a good thing that he did.

modern times & big changes

In 1977, after the estate was settled, the Mervyn family from Kelowna would become the new owners. Doug, his wife Marie and the youngest two children, Lisa and Tim moved to Alkali. They were newcomers to the business (Doug had always dreamed of cattle ranching) and Bill Twan stayed a few months to help them settle in before he retired and moved to Williams Lake. Bill’s son, Bronc remained on the ranch – first as the cowboss, then as the manager, a position of resident manager he still holds. Bronc was raised on the ranch, he knew every inch of the place; all 37,000 deeded acres and the 125,000 or so acres that the ranch’s range permit encompasses and there was’t much about the overall operation that he didn't know. Together Doug and Bronc made sweeping changes – modernization comes with each new generation of operators. The cowherd was the first thing to change – it was mainly Hereford in 1977 and Doug and Bronc introduced more cross breeding immediately. The hay operation was switched to primarily silage, first in pits, then into bags. The bags hold up to 400 hundred tons each – 2,500 square bales feed the horse herd and a few round bales are made for extra horse feed and for use in the heifer calving yard and sick pen.