|Cattle round-up day at the 76 Ranch, early 20th century|
For many communities in southwest Saskatchewan, their history dates back not to the railroad coming through, nor to explorers setting up colonies.
For those communities, their history begins with a ranch, and more specific, the 76 Ranch.
The 76 Ranch, or Old 76 as some called it, dates back to 1887 when Sir Lester Kaye headed a British syndicate that received large tracts of land from the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Stretching from Balgonie, Saskatchewan to Calgary, these 12 tracts of land would become known as the Lester Kaye Farms.
In 1888, the Edmonton Bulletin reported that Kaye had tendered a contract for two million feet of lumber so he could construct farm buildings across the expansive area he now controlled. Bringing in 500 Clydesdale mares from Ontario to bring the prairie sod under cultivation, he also had 7,000 cattle from Wyoming shipped in.
It may seem odd to see such a huge portion of land given over to a British syndicate at the time, but the lands came with two strict conditions. First, any buildings had to be put up close to the railway line, and second, crop experiments had to be continued on the lands. The second condition was so that the railway could find what crops were most suited for each region in the area.
Around 1883, the 76 ranch house was constructed at Crane Lake and due to the flatness of the land, it could be seen for miles around. Known for its English fireplaces, glass cupboards and large dining rooms, it may have been the most elegant building found in Saskatchewan at that time.
In 1889, a slaughtering plant was constructed near Calgary to handle the slaughtering of the thousands of cattle that were coming and going from the 76 Ranch.
With very poor rains falling, it was decided that 44 pine water tanks from Winnipeg would be shipped in. Each tank carried 575 gallons, but the water could not be hauled fast enough and it required 40 trips with each wagon to give one acre of water an inch of water. It did not take long for this project to be abandoned.
In the end, after several crop failures, it was decided that the area would be better for ranching. At this point, Kaye and his syndicate were looking to get rid of the properties and that is where D.H. Andrews comes in with his own company, which bought up the land, then sold them or rented them out. Andrews was a very capable and experienced rancher, and he did his best to make the lands successful.
The only tracts he kept were the Swift Current, Gull Lake, Stair and Crane Lake properties.
Horses were soon brought in to be raised in the areas, as well as sheep numbering as much as 30,000 to be pastured in the Swift Current and Gull Lake areas. About 20,000 cattle were also brought in, and raised in the Crane Lake and Stair areas.
Crane Lake, at this time, served as the headquarters and Andrews stayed there as manager of the entire ranch. Crane Lake was located near where Piapot is now found.
There was ample space to be found at this time, and Andrews thought to fill some of it with 15,000 Eastern steers. Unfortunately, an outbreak of mange killed most of the cattle off.
In 1905, Andrews sadly passed away and he was replaced by a man by the name of Springett. His time as manager was mired by severe losses among the herds. In 1906-07, a severe winter killed of most of the herd. By this time, homesteaders were coming in and taking up a lot of space, resulting in the decision to sell some of the 76 Ranch properties.
Springett would remain as manager until 1917.
In 1909, Gordon, Ironsides and Fares bought out the Crane Lake property. They also bought the 76 brand and continued to use it for several years.
The ranch would eventually have 12,000 head of cattle on a fenced range, which would last until 1920. It was in that year that Gordon, Ironsides and Fares sold their business and most of the ranching operations were acquired by Pat Burns, one of the founders of the Calgary Stampede.
One of the main reasons for this was the First World War and the heavy financial hit it brought to the company. The company took a big loss in ranching, but the losses in their packing industry was even worse. Fares for his part lost $1 million on butter alone at the end of the war because of closed markets.
The Dominion leases that the company held were also soon to be opened up to homesteaders filing into the area.
By 1926, the days of the 76 Ranch were over.
Eventually, the 76 Ranch would split into various rural municipalities, pastures owned by individual farmers and ranchers, as well as into PFRA pastures by the provincial government.
Today, the 76 ranch house that was built in 1888 sits in Gull Lake. It served as the residence of the 76 foreman and ranch hands until 1906 when it was purchased by Conrad and Price, the men who bought the land that would become the site of Gull Lake. In 1906, it became a one room school, then a hotel, then a scout house, then the office of the Gull Lake School Division and finally it now sits as the home of a private company.