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History: Early horse breeding at Douglas Lake

Reprinted from the May 1953 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

Thomas G. Stewart. who spent 27 years as a fieldman in the employ of the Federal Live Stock Branch, came to Canada after serving in the South African war. One of his first jobs in Canada was as horseman for the Douglas Lake Cattle Company.

Early horse breeding at Douglas Lake
By T.G. (Tom) Stewart

As is generally understood, the Douglas Lake Ranch was started in the very early 1880s by Charlie Beak, who had a ranch in Oregon, and who when he heard that a railroad was coming through British Columbia, came up to get a foothold in the prospective ranching territory, not too far from where the railroad was likely to be. In the Nicola Valley he located on a piece of land on the Nicola River about two miles from the Indian reservation at the fort of Douglas Lake. There he was attracted by a nice waterfall on the Nicola River about halfway between the ranch and the Indian reservation and there he built a good house. This area is still known as the Beak place but is now within the limits of the Douglas Lake Ranch. 

Mr. Greaves was going into the Nicola Valley as a cattle buyer for a syndicate he formed with Charles Thompson and William Ward in the early 1880s. At the time he was making a home on his ranch between Kamloops and Savona, but he was so much taken with the Nicola Valley that he came back and bought out some ranchers and went into partnership with Charlie Beak, Thompson and Ward and the Douglas Lake Ranch was born. 

Mr. Greaves lived at Douglas Lake as partner-manager until he and Thompson sold out to Ward in 1910. Beak had sold his interest in the ranch to his partners in 1892. Mr. Grieves retired to Victoria and died in 1915 at the age of 83. 

When the railroad came through and finished in 1885 the partners made out very well. 

In the fall of 1886 Mr. Beak made a trip to the British Isles. While in Glasgow in the spring of 1887, he saw a lot of good horses on the street and being interested in horses he followed them. They were going to the Glasgow stallion show. This was the time that the great Clydesdale horses, DARNLY and the PRINCE OF WALES, were in their glory. Mr. Beaks watched the judging and he was so much taken by the winning two-year-old stallion that he bought him, paying £1,000, in those days a great price. This horse was named THE BOSS, sired by DARNLEY. Mr. Beak engaged John Blackwell to bring THE BOSS to Canada and John stayed at the Douglas Lake for many years and started the horse ranch at the end of it. 

Mr. Greaves told me that when such an expensive horse arrived, the partners sup- posed they would be ruined, as there were no really good mares to breed him to; but thinking it over in the following year they gave an order to Sorby of Guelph for six registered mares. It turned out to be one of the best investments they ever made. Young stallions were ordered before they were born, and the company ordered more registered mares from Ontario. Mr. Beak did not live to see the results of his purchase as he died about three years later. The mares did well. Of the first six imported, one of them, LADY VERA, lived until she was 26 years old and had 22 foals, which may be a record. 

Previous to the arrival of the first six Clydesdale mares, a man brought in 60 Kentucky mares and a stallion, with the intension of starting a horse ranch. He asked Mr. Greaves if he might run them at Minnie Lake while he located a ranch, and Mr. Greaves agreed. Later, Greaves bought all these mares and the stallion and they founded the light horses on the ranch. 

When I went to Douglas Lake there were around 2,000 horses and 8,000 cattle. Of the 500 brood mares, about 50 to 60 were registered Clydesdales with the same number of light mares, and about 400 grade Clydesdales. Horses found a ready market in the new settlements and on the Cariboo Road. The heavier ones went to the logging camps and the cities of Victoria and Vancouver. When the orchards started in the Okanogan there was a great demand for the low and chunky ones. 

When in Vancouver in the early 1900s, Mr. Greaves saw motor trucks on the streets and at Ashcroft he encountered the first motor trucks on the Cariboo Road. He came home and said, “Boys, we better cut down on the horses.” The next spring, I picked out 150 of the best range mares, 50 of the best light mares and 50 of the registered Clydesdale mares and let the rest go into the horse breakers field so they could be broken and sold. What a beautiful band of mares we had to continue with after 1910. Mr. Greaves sold a lot of horses that year. The horses paid all the expenses of the ranch and the cattle were profit. 

The Douglas Lake Ranch consisted of about one hundred and fifty thousand acres of deeded land and about the same in leasehold. This was more or less thrown together in Mr. Greaves’ time and the fencing and building that had to be done took a great amount of labour. 

The only two times I saw Mr. Greaves vexed was when THE BOSS horse died and when they lost about 8,000 cattle in the bad winter and late spring of 1894. In the latter year, the snow did not go until late in May. But they had 8,000 head of cattle more or less left to go on with. After the railroad came through, there were fewer sales of cattle and they had increased in numbers until the bad spring cut them back. After that, management tried to keep about 8,000, but when the horses were reduced, the cattle were increased to 10,000. 

With the decline in interest in horses, breeding was suspended on the ranch. But in 1952, there were about 25 mares that were marked for breeding and a three-year-old stallion was purchased from Alex. A. Mitchell, Lloydminster. Hence the breeding of a few mares is being resumed on this ranch as a few horses will always be needed. For the light mares they have a Palomino stallion, which will add some colour to the hills.

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