Photographing ranch life in the Cariboo Chilcotin is something Liz Twan continues to enjoy.
Go to a rodeo, bull sale or cattlemen’s meeting and she will probably be there with her camera in hand, knowing the names and connections of most everyone in attendance.
Her foray into photography began as a young girl in the 1960s using an Instamatic camera.
She still has photos she took at the Williams Lake Stampede from that era and of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau when he visited Williams Lake in 1970.
It was after she wrote an obituary for her husband Bronc Twan’s aunt Evelyn Maurice that Liz started writing as well as doing photography.
“Everybody liked it because it was so much like her,” she said of the obituary. “I did several after that.”
Her photographs, articles and columns have appeared in the Tribune and magazines such as Canadian Cowboy Country, Country Life and Beef in B.C.
In 1998 she collaborated with a layout designer from Alberta, Syd Levitt, to publish a book of photographs and stories – Cowboys, Characters and Critters: The Life of the British Columbia Cowboy.
It sold out and had to be reprinted. In 2013, she was awarded a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and in 2011 the Joe Marten Memorial Award for the Preservation of Cowboy Heritage in B.C.
Liz was born on May 7, 1956 in the old hospital in Williams Lake, as were her brother Jim in 1957 and brother Matthew in 1962.
Her mom, Mary Skipp (Latin) was also from Williams Lake where she was born on Christmas Day 1929, while her father the late H. Lee Skip, was born in Edmonton and moved to Williams Lake to work as a lawyer in 1952.
His plan was to stay a short while but then he met Mary.
With fond childhood memories of Williams Lake, Liz described it as a small town where she could do whatever she wanted.
“I’d roller skate downtown,” she recalled. “We lived up on Fifth Avenue below the hospital. There was nothing much up there at that time. When they built Columneetza we thought why the heck did they build it in the middle of nowhere like that?”
She figure skated and loved playing every school sport there was.
Into her 40s she continued to play volleyball with some young women from Esk’etemc until she started showing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and “lost all my power.”
She was officially diagnosed when she was 43 and has been going to the research clinic at the University of British Columbia where she has appointments with a “top doctor,” ever since.
“He knows what he’s doing. He says I’m his star patient.”
The disease does make it difficult to hold her camera still at times because she cannot always stay in one place, but when she concentrates heavily it is easier.
She recently bought a lighter camera and has been practicing in anticipation of shooting at the upcoming Williams Lake Stampede June 30 through July 3.
Recently she compiled some old Super 8 films that her father shot onto DVDs that depict Liz and her brothers dressed up for Stampede parades wearing cowboy boots, western shirts and cowboy hats with stars on them.
“It was so hilarious because we weren’t a cowboy family. Dad supported the parade and was president of the Kiwanis Club and did that beef-cooked-in-a-pit for years.”
When she had finished Grade 11 her parents moved to Vancouver, but not wanting to leave Williams Lake, Liz stayed behind and boarded with neighbours.
After high school graduation in 1974 she went to the University of British Columbia, thinking she wanted to become a teacher, majoring in political science and history.
Working in the summers for the city’s playground program in Williams Lake, however, made her realize she did not have enough patience to work inside with children.
She switched her plans and attended Capilano College to study fine arts, as she enjoyed weaving. In the summer she worked for forestry doing drafting.
While attending a Stampede barn dance she met Bronc.
“A friend of mine saw me looking at him, grabbed me and went up to him and said, ‘Liz this is Bronc, Bronc this is Liz, now go dance.’”
They were married in 1978 and she went to live at Alkali Lake Ranch, where Bronc had grown up and was working as a cow boss and later the manager.
“My friends thought I was crazy,” Liz said of her marrying a cowboy and going to live on a ranch.
Their son Willee was born 1981 and a second son Jesse in 1985. Following his dad’s footsteps, Willee manages the 153 Mile Ranch for Xatsull First Nation and has two children – Piper and Remee.
After Bronc retired in 2016 the Twans moved off the ranch onto their own property where they built a home.
“We are so busy it’s crazy. Bronc has his own cattle. Jesse has sheep and we help look after them when he is working out of the province.”