The historical bow valley ranche at fish creek provincial park

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Site Restoration

The Ranche House  |   Foreman's House   |   Log Cabin/Trading Post

The Ranche House
When the original log home from the Government Supply Farm burned down in 1896, Hull built the Bow Valley Ranche House. The Ranche House represented the height of country luxury and grace. The house, like the owner, had a commanding but understated presence. The wrap-around porch and the splendidly landscaped property set the stage for garden parties, tennis matches and other festivities. Hull's home combined the elegance of the city with the country charm of a working ranch. The historical significance of the building lies in its association with the cattle aristocracy that emerged in and around Calgary towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Design: Mr. Hull hired James Llewellyn Wilson, Calgary's most prominent architect, to design the house. Wilson's previous commissions included Haultain School (1894), the A.E. Cross residence (1891), the Bank of Montreal (18xx) and the Alberta Hotel (1888) on Stephen Avenue. Although Wilson was accustomed to building with wood and sandstone, he chose brick for Hull's Queen Anne style ranch house. The chosen design was simple, yet elegant and sophisticated. Wilson based it on the T-plan, common at the turn of the century (a two-storey, rectangular main structure with a smaller wing attached perpendicularly at the back). The floor plan, exterior design and landscaping provided front areas of leisure and back areas for labour.

Exterior: The architectural style of the main structure was Gothic Revival, highlighted by a gabled hip roof with twin brick patterned chimneys, triangular dormer windows and decorative roof trim. A deep, wide verandah on the east, south and west sides of the structure diminished its sharply vertical appearance.  To create a less angular look to the building, Wilson introduced softer artistic details around each dormer window.  These details were also added to the small walk out balcony as well as the verandah roofline.  The two benches, which sat on the front of the verandah, continued this style with their more detailed lines. Around the bottom of the verandah, Wilson installed a delicate lattice skirt that eliminated all view of the foundation. Similar latticework was used to create a screen at the north end of the verandah to separate the main building from the less attractive working wing.  This was intended to display the distinction between the owner and his employees. 

Interior: The main rectangular structure included the formal rooms of the house and was designed in a symmetrical manner.  There was a centre hall, a formal parlor or sitting room to the left as one entered the front door, and a dining room to the right.  These rooms were precisely the same dimensions although the bay window of the parlor was built considerably smaller than the one in the dining room.  Each room had a single wood burning fireplace and twin eight-over two double sash windows on its southern side. There were four rooms upstairs.  A master suite with attached dressing room and a walk-in closet was located on the east side with two smaller bedrooms across the hall.  A small room, which was later turned into a functional bathroom, was located on the north wall next to the smaller bedrooms.

The north wing of the house was basically a one-story structure with a loft space above.  The loft, entered via a steep narrow staircase in the north wing, was left as one large room and served as the permanent ranch hands' sleeping quarters during the winter. A lean-to attached off-centred on the north wing was also built for the ranch hands.  When Wilson designed the house, this section was to accommodate the workers' dining room and kitchen.  During construction these plans were altered to add space to include a spare room, a wash up room and a bedroom for the house manager and cook Charlie Yuen.

Landscape: The site was just beneath the north escarpment of the valley, sheltered from prevailing winds, and on a rise overlooking the broad grassed flats of the creek valley. The landscaping that surrounded the house was designed to enhance the main structure.  In the centre of the front yard Wilson placed a large round flowerbed sown with perennials and criss crossed by uncut native sod.  On either side of the bed were alternating trees or bushes set in an arc.  The effect created by the trees and bushed echoed the curved whale ribs standing on the sides of the verandah entrance.  A path lead from the main steps to the gate of the picket fence, which encompassed the front yard.  As a finishing touch Wilson also incorporated a tennis court for the Hull's recreation. 

In August,1896 the local newspaper reported that construction on the $4,000 house was underway. "The dining and sitting rooms, on each side of a fine entrance hall, will be 16 feet by 22 feet. Besides these there will be a men's room, kitchen and several bedrooms. The house will be fitted with open fire places, after the English fashion." The Ranche House has been acknowledged to be the finest country home in the Territories during that era and is a unique piece of architecture.

Renovations: In 1945, renovations by the the Burns family necessitated rebuilding the roof which broke the established gable pattern.  The windows were changed from double sashed to plated glass. Windows were also installed in the verandah and the east wall of the north wing. Extensive changes took place to the main house in 1957, including the addition of a large family room wing on the west side, consisting of bedrooms and a games room. An in-ground swimming pool and a tennis court were also added at that same time.

Restoration: Boarded-up and vacant since 1978, the deteriorated Ranche House was in need of serious repair. Planning for the restoration began in 1995 by The Ranche At Fish Creek Restoration Society. Construction commenced in the fall of 1998 and by the summer of 1999, The Ranche House was restored to its turn of the century grandeur.

During the restoration of The Ranche House it was important to maintain the authenticity and historical accuracy of the interior and exterior of the building. This philosophy presented many challenges, considering that no architectural drawings were available of the original house construction. Before construction began, Carruthers & Associates Architects prepared new architectural drawings representing the existing house structure, incorporating additional details from historical research and design features required to conform to current building standards. Natural wood, the predominant feature inside the house, was stripped of paint and restored to its original finish. The historic restoration included provisions for a commercial restaurant to operate in The Ranche House and in order to preserve the originality, no interior walls were added or modified. Mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems were upgraded and a commercial kitchen was added in the back of the building. All facets of construction were managed by Hurst Construction. The commercial operation opened as The Ranche Restaurant in the summer of 1999.

Ranche House 2000Today, as you walk through the vaulted Grand Salon dining room or admire the impressive original staircase, it's hard to imagine that only a few years ago this home was a labyrinth of dank, deserted rooms with peeling wallpaper, missing light fixtures and the occasional gaping hole in the hardwood floor. The Ranche House has received an new wrap-around covered veranda, with beautiful gingerbread-style trim, very true to the design of the period. The interior decorating is all done with period pieces from tassle-shaded lamps, to original paintings and carpets. The elegant parlours are restored to their former grandeur with comfortable antiques, western art and Victorian bric-a-brac.

The Provincial Government has designated The Ranche House as a PROVINCIAL HISTORIC RESOURCE under Section 16 of the Historical Resources Act, R.S.A. 1980 C. H-8 as amended. It is therefore, considered that the preservation and protection of The Ranche House is in the public interest.

Foreman's House
T.W. (Billy) Bannister was hired by W.R. Hull in 1886 as the first foreman/manager of the Bow Valley Ranche. When Senator Patrick Burns purchased the ranch in 1902, Billy Bannister was retained as the foreman until 1910, when he moved into town to manage the Burns stockyards. Initially, the upstairs area in the back portion of The Ranche House served as the original foreman's quarters but in 1905, when it became too small for the growing Bannister family, Senator Burns moved a house from the M. Patterson Ranch at Bayfield onto the ranch site. Through the years this house continued to accommodate other hard-working ranch foremen and their families........Norman Willans (1910-1918), Ed Hoschka (1918-1950) and Lee Alwood (1950-1953).

Annie's Bakery and Cafe Renovation of the Foreman's house in 1997 was the first step in the restoration of the Bow Valley Ranche site. Interior walls and ceilings were repaired and refinished. Broken windows and doors were replaced. The exterior walls and deck were repaired and painted. Electrical services were upgraded and a handicap access was installed. The Foreman's house opened as Annie's Bakery & Cafe named after Annie Bannister, the wife of Billy Bannister, the first foreman/manager of the Bow Valley Ranche.

Glenn Log Cabin (Trading Post)
In 1873, in the broad valley where Fish Creek flows into the Bow River, John and Adelaide Glenn built their first home, a log cabin, complete with sod roof, stone fire-place and chimney. During the next several years, John Glenn also used their home as a trading post for the Hudson's Bay Company, the North West Mounted Police and the local native Sarcee people. John and Adelaide Glenn moved further up the Fish Creek Valley in 1879 and established a second farm at the McLeod Trail crossing. Their original buildings were sold to the Canadian Government as a Government Supply Farm intended to help train Blackfoot people in European farming techniques.

By 1892, the Government Supply Farm was acquired by William Roper Hull, who built the opulent Bow Valley Ranche House only a few metres from the original Glenn building. Lean-tos had been added to Glenn's original construction (Glenn's building is the small cabin immediately north-east of The Ranche House). The building served as a blacksmith's shop for a number of years and was converted to an automobile garage in the 1950's. Left derelict, the building, together with the Bow Valley Ranche, was acquired in 1973 by the Provincial Government as part of the development of Fish Creek Provincial Park.

By 1998, the passage of time, the activity of vandals, and rotting timbers made it clear that some action would have to be taken to preserve this first European construction in the Calgary area. Fish Creek Provincial Park and the Department of Archaeology at the University of Calgary undertook a joint project aimed at researching the history and architecture of the building and preserving the remaining structure. Advanced rotting of many of the original logs sadly dictated the demolition of the building. The building was taken apart by the 1998 Department of Archaeology Field School which recorded the positions of all the architectural elements and stored the materials for future reconstruction.

The 1999 and 2000 Department of Archaeology Field Schools continued their excavations at the Glenn Building site and the University of Calgary, Fish Creek Provincial Park and The Ranche At Fish Creek Restoration Society are cooperating to restore the building to its 1873 origins in its original location. With additional funding, the goal is to reconstruct the original log cabin/trading post in 2001.

Dale Walde is Director of the Field School at the Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary. Beginning in 1998, Dr. Walde has made Fish Creek Provincial Park the home of the Field School Program.


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