BUNCHGRASS ECOSYSTEMS AND THE EARLY CATTLE INDUSTRY
IN THE THOMPSON-OKANAGAN

THE RAILWAYS AND THE COMING OF SETTLERS - 1886 -1895

A Cattle Train: Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. the first cattle train passed through Yale, constituted of five car loads, in all 85 head, and drawn by No. 4 engine. Flat cars had been boarded up at the sides and ends and the cattle appeared to be very quiet. Mr. J.B. Greaves has the honour of shipping the first head of cattle by the Railway down the line. We understand the charge for taking the cattle from the place of loading to Port Moody is $6 per head. This will pay very well and, no doubt, the Railway contractors will follow it up as a business. Loaded with steel rails, etc. up and the cattle back will do. [Inland Sentinel, 14 February 1884.]

As the above indicates, even before the railway was completed through British Columbia, cattle were being shipped to the west coast from the bunchgrass ranges of the Interior. This coastal market would remain the major outlet for Thompson-Okanagan beef up until modern times. Ranchers along the CPR line had a short drive to railway yards, which were soon adapted to handle the herds of cattle that would be shipped. The demand for beef, as the lower mainland city of Vancouver grew to become the largest in the province, kept a steady flow of cattle off the ranges. This kept the pressure off the bunchgrass resource and ranchers, taking advantage of their increased prosperity, were able to buy up enough land to move their cattle often, thus conserving the resource. In fact, even with the increased cost of Crown Land from one dollar to $2.50 an acre, ranchers continued to buy land whenever possible to increase their land base.

A typical example of the ranchers' tendency to use the year's profits to purchase additional lands is that of Cornelius O'Keefe, who had originally settled at the Head of Okanagan Lake in 1867 and struggled through the 1870s, making additional income as Post Master and owner of a general store and grist mill. The Assessment Roll for the District of Okanagan for 1879 indicates that O'Keefe owned 966 acres. In 1880, he started the expansion of his land base by purchasing 320 acres of Crown Land. A survey of the Kamloops Inland Sentinel and the Vernon News for the 1880s and 1890s shows his continued acquisition of unoccupied land:

  • January 17, 1884 - C. O'Keefe applies to purchase 160 acres southeast of Vernon.

  • February 7, 1884 - C. O'Keefe applies to purchase 160 acres at Okanagan Landing.

  • April 8, 1886 - C. O'Keefe applies to purchase 360 acres along Commonage Road.

  • August 6, 1887 - C. O'Keefe applies to purchase 640 acres, Section 9, Township 8.

  • October 20, 1888 - C. O'Keefe applies to purchase 640 acres in Township 13 and, at the same time his wife, Mary Ann    O'Keefe applies to purchase the south 1/2 section (360 acres) of Section 36 and a fraction of Section 35, Township 13    (40 acres).

  • May 11, 1889 - C. O'Keefe applies for two purchases, 294 acres and 514 acres along Okanagan Lake.

  • February 8, 1890 - C. O'Keefe applies to purchase 320 acres Section 16, Township 8.

  • July 2, 1891 - C. O'Keefe applies to purchase 640 acres Section 6, Township 8.
  • February 25, 1892 - C. O'Keefe applies to purchase 20 acres "unclassified land . . . unoccupied fractional part of Section    15, Township 8".

  • During the same time, O'Keefe had purchased in 1883 Lots 62, 65, 75 and 38, totaling 715 acres from Charles F. Houghton for $7000; and, in 1892, the west half of Lot 67, totaling 124.5 acres from Luc Girouard. This pattern of acquisition, starting in 1880, when the demand for beef to feed railway survey and construction crews began, is typical of many of the ranches in the Thompson-Okanagan. Most ranchers had been content to hold relatively small acreages during the 1870s and take advantage of pastoral leases or unoccupied land to use for extended grazing. But the coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway signaled an influx of settlers that convinced most ranchers to buy up all of the land they could before the onslaught of settlers. During this period, many small ranches in the bunchgrass ranges were purchased by their adjoining neighbours, as stockmen strove to expand their land holdings so that they could continue to carry on ranching on the reduced bunchgrass resource.

    Indeed the bunchgrass ranges were deteriorating throughout the Thompson-Okanagan, not just in the heavily grazed areas. Contemporary references indicate that, even with careful stewarding of pasture land, the ranges were suffering after years of continued use, especially those in the well-watered, low lying areas where cattle were wintered and settlement was most active. Lady Aberdeen who, with her husband Lord Aberdeen, purchased land in the Okanagan in the 1890s, noted the condition of the range.

    Long [Kalamalka] Lake . . . we drove through many miles of fir woods which are used as ranges for cattle. There have been too many cattle on most of this ground and the bunchgrass is eaten down so that the ground looks very sandy, and the grass which succeeds this and which is called 'wormwood' has not yet come up.

    What Lady Aberdeen called "wormwood" is described by Newton H. Chittenden, who traveled through the region in 1882, and reported "[C]attle keep in good condition on a species of white sage, called wormwood which succeeds bunchgrass, where the latter is too closely grazed." There is no question that he is referring to Big sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata) which, although present in a limited quantity in most bluebunch wheat grass ranges, increases as the bunchgrass is grazed off. Chittenden is wrong, however, in assuming that the sagebrush is nutritious. In fact, the Big sagebrush is of extremely poor palatability and nutritional content. In the lower lying ranges, where the Big sagebrush and bluebunch wheat grass co-exist, Sandberg's bluegrass (Poa sandbergii) replaces the bluebunch wheat grass. Sandberg's bluegrass is only fair in palatability and nutrition and so represents a poorer grazing grass for cattle. In cases of extreme overgrazing, needle-and-thread (Stipa comata), a reasonably good grazing grass but potentially injurious to cattle, takes over a range and even begins to overtake the Big sagebrush.

    This deterioration of the bunchgrass resource continued through the 1890s, gradually spreading to the higher elevations. In the 1895 Minister of Agriculture's Report, Okanagan rancher, Alf Postill was to report:

    The pasturage is not so good as in former years. The country having been overstocked, the original grass has in many places disappeared. Bunchgrass and rye-grass are the principle grasses, and where they have been eaten out an early maturing grass, known as June-grass has taken possession of the ground. This affords food feed for stock until about the 1st of July when the cattle move on to higher ground, where the bunchgrass is still to be found in good quantities.

    June grass (Koeleria macrantha) tends to increase in rangelands of higher altitude and is only fair in forage quality, indicating that the hillsides were also suffering from overgrazing.

    The coming of the railway and the subsequent construction of branch lines into the Okanagan in 1892 and the Nicola Valley in 1907 provided easier access to markets, increased the population and the demand for beef, and improved the availability of supplies to the outlying ranches. Kamloops, ideally located on the main line, became a major shipping point for the surrounding area. Cattle ranching became an industry and, by 1891, the export of animals and their produce was third only to mines and fisheries in the British Columbia economy.

    With the growth in population in the lower mainland, especially in the Vancouver area, the consumer began to demand not only high quality beef but also that beef be available all year round. This resulted in changes in the ranching industry. First of all, it required the cultivation of much more extensive forage crops for winter stall feeding. This was primarily done on the easily irrigated lowlands. In the early days, the ranchers had put up hay using the native bunchgrasses and it was generally considered that a ton of hay per head was enough for winter feeding. Actual practice seems to indicate that much less hay than that was produced per head. A typical ratio of cattle to hay is given in the 1893 "Report on Agriculture" in the B.C. Sessional Papers which shows the North Okanagan as having 5200 head of cattle and 2000 tons of hay produced. It is not surprising then that the occasional severe winter resulted in the starvation of great numbers of cattle. It became obvious that, as the bunchgrass ranges became depleted, the ranchers would have to grow more forage crops.

    The 1890s were a time of experimentation with different varieties of forage crops. As early as 1862 Henry Cornwall at Ashcroft had planted alfalfa but did not continue to grow it. In 1876, alfalfa was tried again by John T. Edwards on the North Thompson, where it grew successfully but, once again, it was not continued with. During the 1890s sainfoin was a popular forage crop and seed was available from Peter Moren of Spences Bridge. But sainfoin had a relatively shallow root system and suffered from extremes in temperature. Unquestionably the most popular forage crop from the early days right up until the 1920s was Timothy grass which always commanded a top price. Unfortunately, with the Timothy seed that was imported into the country were other alien seeds such as Russian thistle and other weeds. The Vernon News of October 1, 1891 indicated that Cornelius O'Keefe (who was putting up 500 tons of hay and wintering 1000 head of cattle) would be seeding 100 acres in alfalfa the next spring, indicating that ranchers were beginning to realize the advantages of alfalfa by that time. T.T. Davies, a rancher at Okanagan Mission, reported in the 1893 "Report on Agriculture" that " the following clovers and grasses best suited to this district: timothy, clover, orchard grass or cock's foot, and red top; on the dry land of the Okanagan, alfalfa and lucerne."

    With the production of more extensive hay crops, it became possible for ranchers to provide beef on a year-round basis by keeping marketable cattle where they could stall feed them through the winter. This allowed them to ship cattle to the coastal markets on a year-round basis and to have a quantity of cattle available for the lucrative spring market. An examination of the Vernon News for the 1890s, shows the location of markets and the demands for beef during this period for the North Okanagan:

  • May 14, 1891 - Douglas Lake Ranch drives 700 head of cattle from the Okanagan Mission to Nicola.

  • January 7, 1892 - John Hall fattens 20 head of cattle for spring beef.

  • July 21, 1892 - Nicola Lake Cattle Company purchases 760 steers locally paying $25 to $30 per head.

  • July 28, 1892 - Major Marjoribanks of the Coldstream Ranch goes to Vancouver to arrange for direct shipping of cattle.

  • November 10, 1892 - Postill Brothers start their own butcher business in Vancouver.

  • December 22, 1892 - Postills ship cattle to Vancouver.

  • February 2, 1893 - Postills ship cattle to New Westminster.

  • March 16, 1893 - Coldstream Ranch send out shipments of fat cattle to the coast.

  • April 6, 1893 - Postills ship 17 head to New Westminster.

  • April 20, 1893 - Postills ship a carload of cattle to New Westminster.

  • August 24, 1893 - Price Ellison ships 2 carloads, Thomas Wood and the Postills one, of cattle to the coast. Postills have     moved their business to Vancouver.

  • February 8, 1894 - William Postill ships carload of cattle to the coast.

  • March 8, 1894 - Postills ship 21 steers (one carload) to the coast. Okanagan Cattle Company of Vancouver sends in a     buyer to the area.

  • March 15, 1894 - Price Ellison takes 100 to the coast for the Okanagan Cattle Company.

  • August 2, 1894 - Postills ships carload to Vancouver.

  • August 16, 1894 - Postill ships 2 carloads to the coast.

  • September 2, 1894 - William Postill ships carload to New Westminster.

  • October 25, 1894 - William Postill ships 20 head to the coast.

  • November 15, 1894 - Price Ellison ships carload to Vancouver.

  • November 22, 1894 - C. O'Keefe sells carload to a Nelson butcher.

  • May 9, 1895 - J.B. Greaves heads for the Nicola with 1300 head of local cattle.

  • March 14, 1895 - A. Postill takes a carload to the coast.

  • March 28, 1895 - A. Postill takes another carload to the coast. Nicola cattle buyer purchases nearly 1000 head from     Greenhow, O'Keefe, Levasseur, Bessette, et al.

  • At Armstrong shipments of dressed beef sent to Kamloops.

  • April 18, 1895 - Buyer from the coast obtains a few head but most fat cattle gone. Coldstream Ranch ships carload of     cattle and hogs to Nelson. $30,000 worth of cattle purchased by Douglas Lake Ranch.

  • April 25, 1895 - Daniel Rabbit ships 61 head to the coast.

  • May 9, 1895 - Cargill & Company ship two carloads to the coast. Price Ellison takes 4 carloads to Victoria and Vancouver     for the BC Cattle Company.

  • May 16, 1895 - A. Postill sends 175 head to the Prairies.

  • June 13, 1895 - Coldstream Ranch ships carload to Kootenay.

  • October 24, 1895 - Coldstream Ranch and Postill Brothers send two carloads of fat steers to Nelson and Three Forks     [Sandon].

  • November 28, 1895 - A. Postill and B. Knox sell a carload each to West Kootenay Butchering Company. The Company's     agent has 140 head on hand.

  • December 26, 1895 - A. Postill and A. B. Knox ship 42 head to Kootenay.

  • As the above references indicate, the demand for beef in the North Okanagan and, by extrapolation, for the entire Thompson Okanagan, had changed significantly since the early days when cattle buyers came through once or twice a year and purchased cattle to drive to coastal markets. It is interesting to note that the Douglas Lake Cattle Ranch and other ranches in the Nicola were still the primary purchasers of cattle in the North Okanagan during this time. But large numbers of cattle were being shipped by rail to markets in New Westminster, Vancouver, Victoria, the Kootenays and (of special note) to the Canadian prairies. In fact, since the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, there had been a demand for British Columbia cattle and horses to stock the prairies. Even when the cattle ranges in Alberta and Saskatchewan were stocked, there remained a demand for BC cattle, possibly to help make up beef quotas for other markets. A reference in July of 1896 mentions that the Coldstream Ranch was sending nine carloads of cattle (260 head) to Calgary.

    Of course, the main outlets for Thompson-Okanagan beef were at the coast but, because of monopolies held by large cattle companies who owned butcher shops in the coastal cities, ranchers were forced to accept lower prices. Three of the larger companies formed were the Douglas Lake Cattle Company in the Nicola, the Western Canada Ranching Company, which bought up the Harper holdings when Thaddeus Harper went bankrupt in 1889, and the British Columbia Cattle Company, in the South Okanagan. These companies were heavily capitalized and were able to control the beef trade at the coast. This lead to the formation of companies such as the Kamloops Cattle Company, which was organized by John T. Edwards of Heffly Creek and James Woodland, a Kamloops butcher, to act as a cooperative in buying local cattle and operating their own butcher shops in Vancouver. Similar companies, formed to eliminate the middlemen, were established by the Postills near Okanagan Mission and the Hull Brothers, south of Kamloops. These alternatives to dealing with the large conglomerates were successful to an extent but, when push came to shove, most ranchers would sell to whoever was offering the best price at a given time.

    The price of cattle in the Thompson-Okanagan remained strong during the early 1890s because of high demand for cattle from the above markets. But the situation was also helped by the establishment of a 90-day quarantine for any U.S. cattle entering the country. The cost of feeding cattle for so long a period of time while they were in quarantine. South Okanagan rancher, Thomas Ellis was quoted in the Vernon News of December 3, 1895 as saying "the placing of the 90-day quarantine on beef cattle from the States meant practical exclusion from our markets as no shipper could afford to feed the stock for so long a period." This quarantine was not lifted until 1897 and kept BC free from the competition of American cattlemen.

    Another change in the cattle industry in the late 1880s and early 1890s was the introduction of purebred cattle into the industry. The cattle that had been driven into British Columbia from Oregon were a mixed breed, described by E.B. Bronson in Reminiscences of a cattleman as:

    the thick loined, deep quartered, dark red half-breed Shorthorn Oregonians, descended from some of the best Missouri and Illinois streams, trailed by immigrants across the plains in the early 1850s.

    These early cattle, which were of mixed breeds, are further described in the Oregon Historical Quarterly 50 (1949):

    Their ancestry included the "California" cattle, some of which were the small Spanish "Black" (but not necessarily longhorns), immigrant oxen and cattle driven overland from the Mississippi Basin since 1843, and, more rarely, better breeds of Shorthorns or Durhams.

    While some cattlemen had imported purebred Durham shorthorn bulls to the Thompson-Okanagan in the 1870s, most did not consider breed improvement to be of any significant value.

    By the 1880s these Shorthorn/Spanish cross cows were bred to Hereford bulls and the resulting cattle were found to be able to withstand severe winters and to produce excellent beef. The Herefords and Durham Shorthorns became the breeds of choice but Polled Angus were also popular because of their lack of horns, making shipping by rail more safe, and their adaptability to the hot dry climate. A few ranchers also preferred Black Galloways for beef as well, but this breed was not imported in any numbers. A typical mix of breeds is described by William Postill, of Okanagan Mission Valley, in the 1893 "Report on Agriculture" in the 1893 Sessional Papers:

    Our general band of cattle are native stock, crossed with Durhams. We are now crossing with Polled Angus. We have four head of pedigreed Polled Angus bulls, and ten head of cows, the same stock. Polled Angus seem to be the best adapted to this climate.

    During the decade after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the cattle industry in the Thompson-Okanagan had changed completely. The average size of ranches had grown many times over, as a result of the pressure from settlers coming into the region and because of the dwindling bunchgrass resource which required more land to pasture the same amount of cattle. Throughout this period, the markets for Thompson-Okanagan beef had remained strong, as the population in British Columbia and especially the lower mainland grew rapidly. Market strength was also a product of the demand for livestock by new settlers to the Canadian prairies as well as the prohibitive quarantine regulations on U.S. cattle. As the turn of the century approached, however, there was increased pressure on ranchers, who held much of the arable land in the region, to open their lands for incoming settlers. This was especially so in the Okanagan and along the Thompson River, where the potential for successfully growing of fruit made land values high enough to encourage ranchers to sell. The next ten years would see more profound changes to the ranching industry in the bunchgrass ranges of the Thompson-Okanagan.


    THE END OF AN ERA - 1895 - 1905

    By 1895, the generation of ranchers who had settled on the bunchgrass ranges of the Thompson-Okanagan were reaching old age. Those who had settled during the 1860s and had remained on their land had been able to accumulate extensive land holdings as they purchased unoccupied Crown Land and bought up neighbouring lands from other settlers who had not been able to survive during the difficult times of the 1870s. By the time there was a rush to settle the land, after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the most desirable lands were in the hands of these few ranchers. These ranchers were in no hurry to dispose of their lands, in spite of the pressure from local and provincial government and from the media. But circumstances were changing and it was not long before the effects would be felt.

    Up until 1897, the quarantine regulations governing the import of cattle from the United States had effectively eliminated cattle from entering British Columbia from the south. After the quarantine regulation were lifted in 1897, American beef began to be shipped into the province in greater and greater numbers. This influx of American cattle, and the resulting lowering of prices, was compounded by the increased number of cattle being shipped in from Alberta. The large ranching companies, such as the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, the Western Canada Ranching Company, near Kamloops; and the British Columbia Cattle Company in the South Okanagan, were able to compete because they had their own butcher shops in the lower mainland. But the smaller ranches were faced with lower prices and declining demand for their beef. The difficulties this bought about were enough to make many ranchers look seriously at disposing of their land to developers who were eager to offer top dollar for land close to the rail line.

    The situation was even more complicated because of the realization that the hot dry climate of the Thompson-Okanagan was particularly conducive to the growing of fruit. This was especially so in the Okanagan and along the Thompson River west of Kamloops, where success could be assured by the availability of water for irrigation purposes. The Coldstream Ranch, near V ernon, had been sold to Lord Aberdeen in 1891 and had successfully grown fruit, using irrigation from the abundant lakes in the surrounding high country. It was obvious to all concerned that the value of rich bottomlands for fruit farming was far greater than any value they might have for ranching.

    With the completion of the Shuswap and Okanagan Railway to Vernon and Okanagan Landing in 1892, the Okanagan Valley became prime territory for development of small orchard holdings. The ranchers at first held out, hoping that the price of beef would improve and justify their large holdings. But, by the early years of the twentieth century, the end was in sight. Thomas Wood, at Winfield, was one of the first to sell, in 1903, when he sold about 4000 acres to C.B. Lefroy, who subdivided it into small lots for fruit growing. The next three years was to see virtually all of the large ranches in the Okanagan sold off to development companies. In 1904 the Lequime family sold almost 7000 acres to the Kelowna Lands and Orchard Company and a number of the other ranchers in the Okanagan Mission (by then called "Kelowna") area sold out that same year. At the same time, Cornelius O'Keefe put up for sale by the Vernon Okanagan Land Company 3000 acres of land between Vernon and Okanagan Landing. The largest land transaction in the Okanagan Valley took place in 1905 when Thomas Ellis sold to the Southern Okanagan Land Company over 30,000 acres of land, including about 20,000 acres that Ellis had bought from the estate of J.C. Haynes in 1895. The B.X. Ranch was the next to go, being sold in 1906 to land developers based in Winnipeg. One of the last big transactions was in 1907, when Elizabeth Greenhow and Cornelius O'Keefe sold their remaining 15,000 acres to the Land and Agricultural Company of Canada, which was supported by Belgian capital.

    The same situation applied to the easily irrigated land along the Thompson River. Developers saw the potential for orchards to be grown and looked for available land. The British Columbia Fruitlands Company was formed and, in 1904, purchased the ranch of Andrew Noble north of Kamloops. In 1910 the company bought the W.J. Roper ranch at Cherry Creek. A.G. Pemberton on the South Thompson sold to the "Sunnysides" syndicate and, in 1908, the Charles Pennie Ranch near Savona, was sold to the British Columbia Development Association who subdivided and established the town of Wallachin.

    The fact was that the generation of ranchers who had settled the land in the gold rush years were dying off and their families were unable or unwilling to continue. William W. Chase on the South Thompson died in 1896 and his land was sold off. Johnny Wilson, the "Cattle King of BC," who had held land at Ashcroft, Grande Prairie (Westwold) and Cache Creek, died and his holdings were split among his children. Lewis Campbell, west of Kamloops, died in 1911 and other ranchers who had made their names in the early years also were disappearing. It was in many ways the end of an era -- a time when, through hard work and perseverance, it was possible to own lands beyond imagination and to leave a legacy to the generations to come.

    The men who settled the vast grasslands during the early years are gone, but the bunchgrass persists. While it was overgrazed, ploughed under and worn down, bunchgrass still exists in pockets throughout the Thompson-Okanagan. In the rich bottomlands of the Thompson-Okanagan there remains little evidence of the great bunchgrass ranges as farming and development have destroyed what little remained of the native grasses. But on the hillsides and in the cool upland forests, the native bunchgrasses can still be found. The ranchers, who early on saw the danger in overgrazing, have become conservationists and carefully steward what remains of the precious resource. In some areas, bunchgrass even made a comeback, so that today there are cattle in great numbers grazing on this wonderful resource, just as there were in the open range era of the 1870s.

    LAND USE POLICIES GOVERNING THE ACQUISITION OF RANCHLANDS

    Given the land requirements for the successful carrying on of cattle ranching as opposed to more intensive farming, the land acquisition policies in place in the Thompson-Okanagan, especially during the pre-1900 era, were a major factor in determining the patterns and extent of land used for cattle ranching. The colonial and provincial governments were given the right to dispose of Crown Lands and, for this purpose, passed a series of pieces of legislation. A review of these pieces of legislation and their implications follows.

    Colonial Government Land Legislation

    As early as August 14, 1858, at the time of the passing of the British Columbia Act establishing the Colony of British Columbia, Edward Bulwer Lytton, British Colonial Secretary, wrote to James Douglas, soon to be Governor of the new colony, "[I]t is the strong desire of Her Majesty's Government to attract to this territory all peaceful settlers, without regard to nation. For this reason, naturalization should be granted to all who asked for it, and then right to acquire public land be accorded." By January of 1860, the Colonial Government had passed the Land Ordinance for the mainland which provided for the occupation of unsurveyed land to the extent of 160 acres by pre-emption by any settler who occupied the land continuously and made certain improvements. In order to discourage speculation the occupation of land was "made the test of title, and no pre-emption title be perfected without compliance with that imperative condition." The combination of required occupancy and improvement with the relatively low price of 10 shillings an acre was intended to encourage the general settlement of the mainland. Of particular importance was a provision that gave pre-emptors of 160 acres the right to acquire further land at the price of ten shillings an acre, provided that improvements were made to the land in question. While the amount of additional land that could be purchased was not initially specified, the Ordinance was amended in 1863 to limit the total amount of additional land to 480 acres, with the price per acre reduced to 4 shillings and twopence an acre. At the same time, in an effort to provide for the establishment of cattle and sheep ranches, allowance was made for the leasing of any amount of additional land for agricultural purposes and for diverting water for those purposes. While these conditions were extremely favourable for those intending to establish farms or ranches, the relatively low number of 254 pre-emptions were recorded between 1858 and 1862, encompassing 50,000 acres.

    Aside from minor adjustments, the Land Ordinance of 1860 remained in effect until the passing of the Land Ordinance of 1870, which closely resembled the earlier legislation in many of its key points. The new Ordinance doubled the amount of land that could be pre-empted at one time in the area east of the Cascades to 320 acres. Improvements to the pre-empted land had to total $2.50 an acre (the colony having adopted the dollar as standard currency in the meantime) and Section 16 specified " continuous bona fide personal residence of the pre-emptor" for a minimum of four years continuous occupation. Pre-emptors were prohibited in holding two claims at the same time and, if the land was not surveyed, the pre-emptor was responsible for having a survey conducted before a Crown Grant would be given for the land. The Ordinance also allowed for the purchase of an unlimited amount of additional lands at the cost of one dollar an acre, payable in four equal installments, provided that the land had been surveyed. As the survey of lands suitable for settlement in the colony was progressing rapidly, this provision was significant in that it allowed successful farmers and ranchers to expand their land base extensively as long as they were able to meet the costs involved. Also of significance to the rancher, Section 26 permitted the leasing by genuine pre-emptors of any amount of Crown land which was not pre-empted or surveyed, for the purpose of pasturing cattle or horses. This section specified that the pre-emptor had to stock the land within six months with the number of animals per 100 acres that was determined appropriate by the Land Commissioner. A maximum of 500 acres could also be leased for cutting of hay and this only for a period of five years. The provisions of this Ordinance were extremely beneficial to those who had arrived during the 1860s and established themselves in cattle ranching, especially the section allowing for the unrestricted purchase of additional surveyed lands after an initial pre-emption. In retrospect, it is safe to say that this legislation did not take into account the limited amount of useful agricultural land available. The effects of this were to be seen later.

    Land Regulations Under the Provincial Government

    When British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871, the Land Ordinance of 1870 remained in effect, but not without its critics. Chief among these was Amor de Cosmos, who assumed the position of Premier in December of 1872. It is not surprising then that a Select Committee on Land Ordinance, appointed in 1872, recommended a number of changes to the legislation. Accordingly, in the Amendment of February 21, 1873, several changes were included. Chief among these was a simplification of the process for granting pre-emption records and the easing of the occupation requirement so that an agent of the pre-emptor, "provided no such agent shall be an Indian or a Chinaman," could fulfill the occupancy requirement. The necessity for a survey of the land before receiving a Crown Grant was also eliminated. In order to protect pre-emptors who had located within pastoral leases from the threats of cattlemen, the Amendment allowed them "the right of passing and re-passing over such leased lands without being deemed trespassors" and the pre-emptor who had cultivated a minimum of ten acres on his pre-emption was allowed to run up to fifty head of stock on the lessee's range during the winter months upon payment of an annual fee. In an effort to attract immigrants to British Columbia as opposed to other areas in the Dominion, the Amendment also allowed for free grants of up to 250 acres of land to be given to new settlers, provided they cultivated at least twenty acres and built a habitable house. Indicative of the general weakening of the occupancy requirements, the applicant for a free grant could be absent from his land for up to six months of the year, provided the land was cultivated as required.

    On March 2, 1874, the Provincial Legislature passed a new Land Act which was a complete revision of the 1870 Land Ordinance and its amendments. But, because of the questionable definition of the term "Crown Lands" and of the complete lack of provision for Indian reservations or land grants for railway purposes, the Federal Government disallowed it. A new Act was passed on April 22, 1875 which improved the definition of Crown Lands and, in Section 60 provided for the establishment of reserves for Indians or for railway purposes. The new Act allowed for pre-emptions of 40, 80 and 120 acres where the terrain precluded larger acreage. Under Section 24 "homestead settlers" could pre-empt surveyed land after two year's occupation and improvements of $2.50 an acre. Then, upon payment of a $5 fee, the homesteader was entitled to a Crown Grant. This meant that now, with no restrictions, land under pre-emption could be granted free of charge, which is why this act of 1875 was known as the "Free Grant Act."

    By Order in Council of August 3, 1878, a 40 mile wide belt of land from the Yellowhead Pass to tidewater on Burrard Inlet was reserved for railway purposes. This was in recognition of Article 11 of the Terms of Union between British Columbia and Canada in 1871 even though that article had required that construction of the railway was to begin by 1873. Conveyance of this land to the Dominion was made official in 1880 but still specified the belt to go through the Yellowhead Pass, a route for the railway that was eventually abandoned. Finally, on December 19, 1883 the "Act Relating to the Island Railway, the Graving Dock, and Railway Lands of the Province" set aside a 40 mile strip totaling 10,976,000 acres together with 3,500,000 acres in the Peace River and 1,900,000 acres on Vancouver Island for the Dominion Government. For years to come there were difficulties in defining the actual boundaries of this strip and it was not until 1895 that boundaries were agreed upon. In the meantime, the Dominion Government made no efforts to settle the lands and settlers could either squat on the lands and hope for legal title or go elsewhere. Finally in 1895, pre-emptors and purchasers of Dominion land were made able to secure titles through provincial legislation. Needless to say, the Railway Belt legislation severely retarded settlement along the line of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

    In 1884 a new Land Act raised the price of purchase for surveyed and unsurveyed agricultural land from $1 to $2.50 an acre and no more than 640 acres at a time of unsurveyed land could be bought, the amount of surveyed land still being unrestricted. This severely limited ranchers from expanding their acreage from that point on, even though the Act provided that applications already being processed could be acquired at the $1 an acre price. Under this exception 109,959 acres of land were purchased by 101 different applicants, including some of the more prosperous ranchers such as Thomas Greenhow (3460 acres), Forbes George Vernon (4739 acres), and Thaddeus Harper (12,146 acres).

    In 1888 an amendment was made to the Land Act to classify land as first or second class, the former being suitable for cultivation lumbering or hay meadows (priced at $2.50 and acre) and the latter being considered unsuitable for any of the above uses (priced at $1 an acre). It was further specified that, where there were two or more applicants for the lease of hay lands, bids must be tendered. In 1891, the Land Act limited the amount of surveyed land that could be purchased to 640 acres and further classified and priced lands for purchase. First class lands, suitable for agricultural, hay or timber uses, were priced at $5 an acre; second class lands, which included agricultural land requiring irrigation, sold for $2.50 an acre; and third class lands, consisting of mountainous and rocky tracts unfit for agriculture, sold for $1 an acre. The final change to the Land Act before the turn of the century was made in 1895, when pre-emptions east of the Cascade Mountains were reduced from 320 to 160 acres.

    As an examination of the above changes in legislation from the Colonial through the early Provincial times reveals, the inducement for settlers to obtain land for the purposes of cattle ranching were strong during the Colonial period and especially favourable during the 1870s. The relatively unrestricted ability for the settler to purchase land after receiving an initial Crown Grant allowed a small group of ranchers to acquire much of the available land in the bunchgrass areas of the Thompson-Okanagan. This inducement was made even greater by the provision for the acquisition of pastoral leases for ranchers. But, once the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was assured in the early 1880s, land acquisition and leasing became much more restricted. By the turn of the century, it became virtually impossible to acquire government land in the bunchgrass area for ranching purposes. Not only was most of the land already in the hands of ranchers, but the restrictions in effect prevented acquisition of enough land to successfully carry on ranching.


    Bunchgrass and beef
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