With everybody munching gratefully on the muffins that I’d bought in a Lillooet convenience store we chugged along the picturesque Hat Creek canyon to the Hat Creek ranch, a show ranch preserved from the days of stage coaches and Indian wars.
In the early 1860s it was the home of Donald McLean, a wild Scot fired by the Hudson’s Bay Co for high-handed behaviour while factor at Fort Kamloops and who was shot during the Chilcotin uprising in 1864. Left fatherless, his three youngest sons, Allan, Charley and Archie formed an outlaw gang that terrorized the southern Interior and were eventually hanged after murdering a local rancher and police constable.
The ranch passed through numerous hands including those of Steve Tingley, the last owner of the BC Express Company aka the BX Line when it was still running stagecoaches up the Cariboo Wagon Road. The ranch buildings and much of the property was purchased by the BC government and operated as a tourist attraction by the BC Heritage Trust back in the 1990s when there was such a thing as Heritage Trust and I served on its board. The local Bonaparte Indian Band coveted the property and was lobbying hard to have the ranch deeded to them on the basis that it was taken from their ancestors originally, but the trust had misgivings about the band’s ability to manage its heritage values. I had never heard the end of the matter but assumed that the band had probably got their wish when the Liberal government dumped the most of its heritage sites and dissolved the Heritage Trust (and fired me) during Gordon Campbell’s first term.
I swung off Hwy 99 and drove through the ranch property, pointing out the big ranch house dating from the 1860s (parts of it anyway), the long-spined roadhouse that had serviced travellers on the BX line stagecoaches until the early 1900s, the big red log barns, the old buggies and horse gear etc. Most of the people bounding around in staff ATVs looked to be Bonapartes, but the grounds looked in good shape, so maybe they turned out to be better managers than the trust trusted them to be.
They had integrated some First Nations features into the display, a tipi and kekuli house, as well as a stagecoach ride down a restored section of the old wagon road and stayovers, so whoever was in charge was forging ahead. Still, it didn’t seem busy. Although it is really one of the best heritage properties in the province, a real working ranch with important historical roots, it has a much lower profile than things like Barkerville, Fort Steele, Fort Langley and even the Kettle Valley railroad. When the trust had it we kept it afloat mainly by renting out the hay fields.
To be continued