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Monday, 15 May 2017 05:53

Transcribed diary to provide new perspective on the history of 76 Ranch

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A land development scheme known as the 76 Ranch was an integral part of the early settlement history of southwest Saskatchewan, but even today not much is known about the English nobleman behind this endeavour, Sir John Lister-Kaye.

That might change as a result of the efforts by Swift Current resident and historian Hugh Henry, who has transcribed about 350 pages from Lister-Kaye’s diary that reflects his time in Canada.
“They’re a document of history,” Henry said about the importance of the diary. “They pertain to one individual and his life experience, but also because they pertain to the history of the development of Swift Current and other parts in western Canada. That early history might have been different if not for him, and so he's part of that story.”
The different land deals between Lister-Kaye and the C.P.R. that collectively became known as the 76 Ranch is now a part of history, but it still has relevance to the presence.
“These families that came to work on this ranch in Swift Current stayed on afterwards and they became part of the community and the early development of the ranching and the farming and the business community in Swift Current,” he said. “So in a sense, there’s that direct connection as well.”
He has been working on this project since August 2016. It took longer to transcribe the handwritten diary than he anticipated because there were more pages than he expected when he agreed to take it on.
 “It was a struggle to get a grasp of his writing style, how he formed different letters and so on, and also names,” he said. “Once I got into it later on, I recognized this name repeats, the way he forms this letter is repeated, and also the flow of his language. You get a sense of that more, and then you can sort of guess at words. This is what he means, even though you can’t read it, you might have a few squiggles and this is what it’s going to be. So it’s challenging, but it’s kind of interesting too because you’re reading along with it and you’re trying to solve the problem of the writing in a sense.”
These pages from Lister-Kaye’s diary were originally photocopied by Larraine Andrews, an author and amateur historian who lives in High River, Alberta. The original diary is located at the Aigas Field Centre, a nature centre in Scotland owned by the current  Sir John Lister-Kaye, 8th Baronet.
“She was in Scotland in 2005 and she knew about this history and she knew about this place where the current Lister-Kaye lives,” Henry explained.
She copied the sections of the diary related to the earlier Lister-Kaye’s enterprise in western Canada. She intended to transcribe the document, but her busy schedule as a travel writer made it difficult and Henry eventually agreed to do it after he became aware of the diaries. It covers the period from 1886 to 1890, and then portions of 1892 and 1893.
“The interesting part is the combination of both the personal life and the business,” he said about the diaries. “It’s just part and parcel of this guy’s life, and it’s the daily life. He doesn’t talk about brushing his teeth or changing his boots, but he talks about buying clothes and financial businesses and dealings and his sometimes personal relationships with his employees. It’s very sort of formal but also quite personal as well.”
He believes the transcribed information will help to provide some new perspectives on the 76 Ranch and on Lister-Kaye.
“When you read the diary, he’s giving really detailed information and the cost of things, locations, where exactly were these ranches, what did he actually own,” Henry said. “Those are details that aren’t known to the public until you get hold of these documents.”
Lister-Kaye acquired 10 blocks of land, each 10,000 acres in size, from the C.P.R. The land was located along the main railway line between Rush Lake, east of Swift Current, and Langdon, which is east of Calgary. The layout of the buildings on each farm was similar with a two-storey house, bunk house, stable, blacksmith shop, and various other structures.
He bought a large herd of cattle from a ranch in Wyoming that used the 76 brand. He continued to use the brand on his farms and 76 Ranch was used to refer to all 10 farms.
“The name of the company was Canadian Agricultural Coal and Colonization Company, but the first starter cattle that came across the line into here and southern Alberta had a 76 brand on them from the previous owner and because they were distributed to all the different farms, they became known colloquially as the 76 ranches,” he said.
Henry will return the photocopies of the diary to Larraine Andrews and the transcribed document will be copied and placed in binders for distribution to communities that are located near the farms of the 76 Ranch.
“The idea is to have it placed in those communities where the history is relevant,” he said. “... so Swift Current, Gull Lake, Maple Creek, Medicine Hat, Calgary and a few other places.”

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Matthew Liebenberg