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Friday, August 12, 2005


The O'Keefe Mansion
"The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or woman."
Willa Sebert Calter 1873 -1947 "O Pioneers!" (1913)

I've been interested in the Pioneer history of Canada since I was a child. Growing up on the Prairies at the end of the Great Depression, I was fascinated by the local Native bands who would troop into our small town. I used to fantasize about living back in the time of the early Pioneers or often pretend I was an Indian child. My first historical writings, when I was 12, were inspired by the long cross-Canada train trip my family made from Ontario to British Columbia, over the vast Prairies and through the majestic Rocky Mountains to the Coast. I began writing stories in lined scribblers, in pen or pencil, illustrated with my own drawings or pictures clipped from magazines to represent the various characters. I still have these early writings in an archives box.

There is history all around us. One only needs to take time to explore, investigate, research.
On a trip to the B.C. Interior last summer, my friend and I visited the historic O'Keefe Ranch.
Located in the Okanagan valley just north of Vernon, this was once the largest cattle ranch and the longest family operated ranch in the Province. It was founded in 1867 by Cornelius O'Keefe who, along with his partners, were driving cattle north to the gold fields from Oregon. Impressed by the vast fields of lush grass they decided to buy land and raise cattle themselves. By the turn of the century they owned 20,000 acres.

The ranch was self-sustaining and included not only the impressive mansion O'Keefe built for his growing family, but the first post office and first Catholic Church in the North Okanagan.
After O'Keefe's death in 1919 the ranch was operated by his youngest son Tierney O'Keefe, until 1967 when it became an historic site. Now you can tour around the Ranch and take a step back into Pioneer history. My friend and I spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around the Ranch. We were especially impressed with the mansion and its furnishings and the many other exhibits including a cowboy museum. I've written a story about the Ranch which I hope to market to local publications.

This weekend I'm heading up to the Okanagan again, this time to Shuswap Lake, new territory for me to explore. I took some time to investigate and located a couple of publications in the Public Library that outline the history and legends surrounding this Lake and the area where it is located. There's lots of material for another local history story.

It makes your travels more interesting if you take time to read up on the destination (local or afar) and find out the specific historical background of the place. Even in the city of Vancouver there are many historical sites to explore including some of the elegant Victorian mansions that have been turned into museums. The family stories behind those houses are fascinating. Recently my Memoir group visited the beautiful old Roedde House and I was amazed at the intriguing story of the Roedde family. I'd never have guess, nor would I have known this interesting bit of local history if we had not taken the time for that visit.

So get out there, look around, find out about the wealth of history around you!

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