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.