Pat McKay’s recently-published book, Drugstore Cowgirl Adventures in the Cariboo Chilcotin, tells the story of a young woman’s transatlantic move from life in England working at the BBC, to life in the Cariboo wilderness working as a ranch cook.
The book title is based on the expression “drugstore cowboy” which describes a a “wannabe” cowboy who buys his cowboy outfit in a drugstore.
McKay will sign copies of her book at the Open Book this Friday, Nov. 1 starting at 1:30 p.m.
McKay’s book includes entertaining references to local people and local ranches.
When she arrived at her first job as a ranch cook, she said that everybody was in for a big surprise. Her new employer had no idea she didn’t actually know how to cook and she had no idea what it meant to live in a bunk house as a ranch hand.
“I grew up watching cowboy movies; we didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but if we were lucky we got to see a movie for kids on Saturday morning for six pence.”
In her 20s she worked at the BBC, and had a friend there who was coming to Canada.
“I saw an advertisement for a cook in the Cariboo region of B.C. and knew I wanted to go,” McKay says.
“I had always wanted to go where the John Wayne movies were made. My mom and dad said they would always help if I needed it. ‘If it’s your dream, you go,’ my dad said.’”
She arrived in the Cariboo in 1964 and for several years worked at places like the 70 Mile House Flying U Guest Ranch, Pollard’s Guest Ranch just north of Clinton and Hanceville Guest Ranch three miles from Lee’s Corner.
Resilient and resourceful, enchanted with her new life, she adapted and thrived. She shares tales of skinny dipping, wild kitchen misadventures and her first wobbly-kneed ride on a horse. There is romance, mystery, history and music, as well as captivating characters and vivid descriptions of an era when a handshake sealed a deal, when you needed your neighbours to survive whether you liked them or not, and when a rodeo and a good country dance were the heart of a community.
“I think a lot of people want to be cowgirls and cowboys,” McKay says.
“I love it here. In my experience there was great honour among cowboys and a certain standard.
“Your handshake was good enough for any business transaction and you never shot anyone in the back.”
Although she says she never became a “real” cowgirl, she states that she did marry a couple of cowboys.
Her second husband John was a big, gentle cowboy who ranched in Redstone for many years. “I worked at the local school and knew of John through his children. I met John square dancing in Williams Lake and we were together for 35 years. At one point we moved to Gibsons and farmed there for 25 years,” she continued.
Now back in Williams Lake, she continues to write and has another book “in the wings.”
“What I’ve tried to convey in the book is the feeling of freedom, and the feeling of support from your neighbors and your community.
“When you’re in trouble there will be someone to help you; people rely on each other for survival.”