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History: The Corral

Reprinted from the September 1950 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

The Corral
By Guy Weadick, High River, Alta.

Two of the oldest cattle ranches in Western Canada changed ownership about the first of August. Both are in the High River, Alta., district and were sold in the closing out of the estate of late Senator Pat Burns.

One was the famous Bar U, which was purchased by J. Allen Barker of High River. The other was the O H Ranch, purchased by C.W. Roenisch of Calgary and High River.

The Bar U Ranch had its beginning in 1882 its owners being the Northwest Cattle Co., principally owned by the Allans of Montreal, owners of the Allan Steamship Lines, their manager being Mr. Fred Stimson, also of Montreal.

Mr. Stimson requested the Montana Stock Growers’ Association to recommend a man to come to Alberta and take charge of the range operations of the company.

In the spring of 1884, George Lane arrived in answer to that request. In the early ’90s Lane, in partnership with Gordon, Ironsides & Fares, purchased the Bar U, and Lane, as a 50-50 partner with the other three men, personally conducted the operations of the outfit.

The Bar U is probably the best-known ranch in Western Canada, its guest book carrying the signatures of persons from all walks of life, from Royalty and from prominents in the political, business and social life of Europe as well as North America.

George Lane was a dynamic character, truly typical of the Old West. In addition to the thousands of cattle the outfit ran, there was the famous Percheron herd of purebred horses that Lane developed into the largest herd of the breed in the world. He imported top stallions and mares from France and the horses on the ranch at one time numbered between seven and eight hundred of purebred Percherons.

The famous six-horse team of the Bar U, exhibited and driven by the late Alex Fleming, beat the noted Armour six-horse team at the World’s Fair in Seattle in 1909. The Bar U horses won hundreds of ribbons and trophies at leading horse shows and agricultural fairs all over North America.

J. Allen Baker, the new owner of this historic ranch, is a young man, 30 years of age. Both he and his wife are natives of the High River district. For the past ten years Baker has operated a modern grain farm as well as conducted a purebred Hereford herd, about 4 miles south of High River. He has also been engaged in the business of auctioneering, having conducted some of the top purebred sales in Western Canada, as well as in the U.S.

He will sell his farm property this fall and he and his family will reside on the Bar U property after he takes over on April 1st, 1951. He is purchasing 500 of the Bar U cows, and 20 head of their purebred Hereford bulls and will continue the oldtime policy of the ranch in raising top-quality Hereford commercial cattle. He also intends to raise some good quarter horses for ranch work. He will likewise continue his auctioneering business in which he has been so successful.

The O H Ranch was started in 1883 by O.H. Smith and Layfayette French, both pioneers on the Western Canadian scene. French was one of the early “free traders” with the Blackfeet into which tribe he was adopted by their head chief, Crowfoot,” whose life had been saved by French.

The original location of the O H was close to High River on the south side of the Highwood, on what has been in later years know as the “Shorty McLaughlin place,” they having sold the land to McLaughlin.

They moved their cattle to the new location (site of the present ranch) in the fall of 1883. Their stock was branded O H on the left ribs and that brand has been used by the outfit ever since.

The late Senator Dan Riley helped build the log house and stable and corrals of the O H in the fall of 1883.

Smith and French later sold out to the Ings Brothers and Walter Ings sold the outfit to a New York company during World War I. In the ’20s it was taken over by Pat Burns and his estate has operated the outfit up to the time of selling to Mr. Roenisch.

“Kink” Roenisch has been in Western Canada for many years, coming to Alberta from Minneapolis, Minn. All his life he has been prominently identified with the grain business, at present being head of the Midland & Pacific Grain Corporation with offices in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Along in the late ’20s he purchased a site for a summer home on the south side of the Highwood, just outside the town of High River, on what was a portion of the old original Smith & Fench O H property before they moved it further west.

About that time Frank “Bull” McHugh of the pioneer ranching family of that name and one of Western Canada’s foremost polo players in the years past, was reviving that game in the High River district. Roenisch become interested and joined the team and has been an ardent player and polo fan ever since. He still plays with one of the Calgary teams.

When the Sibleys, who owned Round Top T ranch across the river from the Roenisch country home, decided to close out their Alberta investments Mr. Roenisch purchased that ranch, which in an earlier day was known as the High River Horse Ranch.

It is a strange coincidence that in his recent purchase of the O H Ranch, 25 miles up the Highwood from the Round Top T outfit Mr. Roenisch is purchasing the original brand and the property Smith and French owned in 1883.

He plans to continue to raise top-quality Hereford commercial cattle on the O H but on a larger scale than he had on the Round Top T where he runs only about 300 head, the balance of the property now being valuable farm land just west of the town limits of High River.

He has in the neighborhood of 18,000 acres on the O H and about 4,000 acres on the Round Top T.

Several other portions of both the Bar U and the O H have been sold to various other persons, mostly neighboring ranchers, who thereby straightened up their lines. Both Messrs. Baker and Roenisch, however, have acquired the hearts of both outfits, buildings etc., thereby consolidating their properties.

The sale of both these historic ranches to local people indicates the spirit of confidence in the High River district, of its people who make the proud boast that it’s the district “that has never known a crop failure” and where the majority of the ranching and farming property in it has been in the possession of its owners and their families from the earliest days of settlement.

Comments and suggestions are welcome. You can reach us via the editor at [email protected].

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