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Haphazard History: Pickard Ranch at Soda Creek

Pickard Ranch was also known to the people in the area as 173 Mile

Barry Sale

Special to the Tribune

Approximately seven miles (11 km) north of the old Soda Creek town site, you will find a small ranch of just over a quarter section (160 acres) on a fertile bench just above the Fraser River. This was the Pickard Ranch, also known to the people in the area as 173 Mile.

I have no idea why it was called 173 Mile. It is located on the northern section of the Cariboo Wagon Road to Quesnel which was completed in 1865, but it is much more that three miles distant from the Lyne Creek Ranch which was designated as 170 Mile. In fact, the two places are about 16 miles apart. I just chalk it up to one of those little mysteries of history to which I will probably never find the answer.

But back to the main story. This property was first pre-empted in the 1870s by John Mackin, a pioneer in the area for whom Mackin Creek on the other side of the river is named. He did not keep the land for long and sold it to James Conroy of the Okanagan Mission. Conroy also did nothing to develop the acreage.

In the late 1870s, George Pickard, a man of French and Welsh extraction who had been born in St. John, New Brunswick, was making his way across Canada. His uncle, Fabien Pickard, had been a voyageur with the Hudson’s Bay Company during the 1860s, and George had always been fascinated by his stories of his adventures in the Quesnellemouth area. In 1880, George arrived in Quesnel and began working as a labourer in the area.

He managed to save some money, and in 1885, he married Caroline (Carrie) Agnes Elmore. She and her sister had grown up in Quesnel and attended school at the St. Joseph’s Mission near Williams Lake. When they were wed, Carrie was 16 years old and George was 45. For a while, they farmed the land at Quesnel where the present Le Bourdais Park is located. Then, George formed a partnership with Robert Middleton, and the two purchased a ranch about 25 miles south of Quesnel on the west side of the Fraser River. The two men just couldn’t get along either personally or in their business dealings, and the partnerships lasted only a few years. Following the latest in a long line of serious disagreements, the partnership was dissolved. In 1895, with the proceeds from their share, George and Carrie purchased the 160 acres to the north of Soda Creek.

By this time, the Pickard family was growing rapidly. The couple had seven children when they made the move to their new ranch. At first, they all lived in a small log house which George had built, but by 1900, they had constructed a new two storey house right next to the Cariboo Wagon Road. It had a kitchen, parlour, living room, and five upstairs bedrooms. Six more children were born in this house, making a total of 13, all of whom lived to adulthood. Carrie was 44 and George was 73 when their last child, Roy, was born in 1916.

The land at the Pickard Ranch had a very favourable growing climate and in short order a large vegetable garden was developed, fruit trees were planted, and hay and grain crops were harvested. The family raised dairy and beef cattle, sheep, and chickens and sold beef, wood, and vegetables. With the ranch house located as it was on the wagon road, one bedroom was kept available for paying guests. The place became a popular stopping house for freight wagon driers, who really appreciated Carrie’s excellent home cooked meals. If the single guest bedroom was already taken the freighters would sleep on straw mattresses in a log bunk house.

The Pickards were hard workers. In the early years between 1886 and 1896, the riverboat service between Soda Creek and Quesnel was discontinued. George, in addition to clearing land, logging, and ranching, took up contracts to raft lumber and shingles from sawmills in Quesnel downriver to Soda Creek. When the boat service resumed, he and his sons contracted to provide cordwood for them. They would fell trees, saw them into lengths, split them, and stack them in piles on the riverbank for the sternwheelers to pick up.

As the children grew to adulthood, they were able to take over much of the operation of the ranch before moving on to vocations of their own. Ralph, the oldest son, established a successful blacksmith business, and a second son, Tom, had become an accomplished freight team driver by the time he was fourteen.

George was 83 years of age when he passed away in 1923. Carrie left the ranch operation to sons Roy and Marvin and to daughter Bertha and moved to Alberta to live with Ralph who had located there previously. Later, she moved back to Quesnel to live with another daughter, Vera. She died there in 1952, also at the venerable age of 83. Son Marvin purchased the home place and lived there until 1958, when he sold it to local rancher Huston Dunaway.

Dunaway purchased more land and built a dam at the headwaters of Pickard Creek to improve the irrigation system. Once he had a steady supply of water, he cleared more land and added sprinklers, which greatly increased the capacity for grazing and hay production. He also renovated the interior of the log ranch house, adding indoor plumbing.

In 1967, Dunaway sold the place to Jack Lozier, who continued to make improvements, including drilling a new well and constructing a new ranch house to replace the aging log structure. Jack and his wife Ellen raised a daughter and a son there, and the two of them remained on the place until their retirement in 1993. After that, the ranch saw a succession of owners and caretakers.

It is now owned by Verlon Jensen from Alberta, and it is still in production as a hay and beef cattle operation.

The old stopping house is no longer inhabited. For the past several years, it has been used for storage. In 2020, there were slides on the Old Soda Creek Road, necessitating a road closure which is looking more and more as if it will be permanent.

When I drove into the old Pickard place from Macalister in the summer of 2021, this 120-year-old structure had succumbed to the elements.

Its footings had rotted out, the windows were gone, and the roof had collapsed.

Unfortunately, the ravages of time, as they inevitably do, have taken their toll on another piece of Cariboo History.

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