Quilchena Cattle Company

Trailing cattle slow and easy on the Quilchena native grass range. Photo by Kim Taylor / Slidin U Photography.
Trailing cattle slow and easy on the Quilchena native grass range. Photo by Kim Taylor / Slidin U Photography.

Changing Hands

The winds of change are shifting the stewardship of the grasslands of British Columbia, on lands that are the lifeblood of the B.C. cattle industry. In a business that is steeped in tradition and not noted for rapid change, this movement has caught the eye of all who have a vested interest in the beef production sector within the province (and far further afield).

The fabric of ranching in the West has altered substantially, largely due to the succession-challenges facing this generation of ranch-families. Inevitably the time comes when the patriarch of the family-unit finally decides to call it a day; generally, of an age well-past the average-retiree, yet, hopefully still able to enjoy the freedom of choice that retirement signifies. In an era in which many offspring have fled the nest, no matter how tight-knit the family, selling is often the only viable option to afford the retirees a comfortable retirement. The decision to sell?—?especially when it comes to a heritage family ranch?—?has to be gut-wrenchingly difficult and a very sad time for all involved, with so much invested in the ranch’s well-being over decades.

However, time and the world do not stand still. (John F. Kennedy)

Similar dynamics factored into the recent sales of three major British Columbia ranches; Alkali Lake Ranch, April 2008 (Doug and Marie Mervyn); James Cattle Company, January 2013 (Lyle and Mary James) and Quilchena Cattle Company, January 2014 (Guy and Hilde Rose). Retirement was a major catalyst and when the ink dried on sale agreements, the new owner of all three operations was the Douglas Lake Cattle Company.

The most recent transaction was the sale of the historic Quilchena Cattle Company located in the Nicola Valley near Merritt, B.C. The outfit was home to several generations of the Guichon (Rose) family. With a land base of about 28,000 deeded acres, it is a diversified enterprise that also includes the historic Quilchena Hotel and Restaurant, a general store, RV park and golf course.

Easing cattle through the gate with the help of a good cowhorse. Photo by Kim Taylor / Slidin U Photography.
Easing cattle through the gate with the help of a good cowhorse. Photo by Kim Taylor / Slidin U Photography.

Early History of Quilchena Cattle Company

Three brothers, Laurent, Pierre and Charles Guichon ventured out of the wine-producing region of Savoie, France on a quest for opportunity in America. They landed in California, where they were soon joined by their youngest brother, Joseph. The quartet headed northward to the goldfields of B.C. Upon reaching the area and seeing how hard the work was, with only a small chance at real riches, the elder Guichon brothers soon decided to establish a supply and pack-train business to cater to the ever-oncoming waves of hopefuls still seeking a golden dream. The youngest, Joseph, chose to hire on with Cataline, a well-established packer who owned the largest pack-train/beef-supply business in the province.

Charles later returned to France to stay, but retained his business interest and as the population in the province swelled, the remaining Guichon brothers, wisely foreseeing the burgeoning need for beef, re-invested all the business profits into cattle.

Ten years later the brothers relocated, moving the cattle operation to Mammit Lake. Pierre passed away shortly thereafter; Laurent and Joseph married sisters; Perrone and Josephine Rey (from a French community near Victoria, B.C.,) and brought them home to the ranch. The next move was to Chapperon Lake where they experimented with innovation in agriculture, enclosing their vegetable gardens in cold frames and extending fresh-produce season well into October. In 1882 the brothers parted company.

Joseph resettled near the mouth of the Nicola River. Laurent remained at Chapperon, but soon sold out to the B.C. Cattle Company and moved to Ladner, B.C. Joseph’s new holding, Home Ranch, became known for quality-imported livestock. By 1890 it had grown to be the largest stock operation in the region, home to over 2,000 head of cattle. Joseph imported the first Hereford to the region from Quebec.

In 1904 the Home Ranch expanded, adding acreage on which the hotel and general store were built (1908, 1912). In 1911 Joseph acquired Triangle (10,000 acres of hay and grazing land) from the B.C. Cattle Company along with an additional 1,700 head.

Now on firm footing, the ranch was a summer destination of delight for Joseph Guichon’s grandchildren?—?one of the most enamoured was young Guy Rose, who spent his summers working on the ranch. A city kid (his father, Matt Rose was a Vancouver policeman) Rose was introduced to and enticed by a lifestyle that would define his future.

In 1957, at the age of 26, Guy Rose and his wife, Hilde acquired the Quilchena Hotel and the southern portion of the 28,000 acre ranch while his cousin Gerard Guichon took over the northern portion of the ranch at the same juncture. Over time, with hard work and dedication, Guy and Hilde’s portion grew to a 1,500 head cow/calf-operation, producing around 3,000 tonnes-hay plus approximately 4,000 tonnes-silage annually which, combined with private grasslands, the use of 50,000 acres of Crown grazing lease-permits provided year-round feed/grazing for ranch livestock.

Photo by Kim Taylor / Slidin U Photography
Photo by Kim Taylor / Slidin U Photography

Guy and Hilde raised five children on the ranch; four sons and one daughter, all of whom have contributed countless hours of labour in devotion to the ranch, the hotel, the general store, and the RV park and golf course over the years. Most recently, Paul, the youngest son managed the hotel and golf course while the eldest, Mike, ran the cattle division.

At age 84, Guy (Hilde) were ready for retirement, longing for less responsibility and the freedom to travel.
In a recent telephone conversation, Guy stated that the decision to sell was very, very difficult, but, said Guy, “Hilde and I are slowly getting used to the change, we even went to Mother’s Day brunch at the Hotel, (which had just re-opened under the new ownership.) We kept our home here, it’s where our hearts are; we put so much of our life into the ranch.”

After 54 years of direct ownership by Guy (who acquired his mother’s 50 per cent share of her father, Joseph Guichon’s ranch in 1957) and 118 years of continuous-ownership selling was, without a doubt, a heart-rending conclusion to reach. It was the end of a ranch-family dynasty in the B.C. cattle industry.
The new owners are close neighbours. The Douglas Lake Cattle Company intends to continue operation as a cattle ranch so the valuable agricultural/grasslands will remain intact; what will disappear is the historic ranch name. The purchase of the company and subsequent amalgamation will envelop it as an extension of Douglas Lake Cattle Company?—?the largest working cattle ranch in Canada.

Keeping the historic place name are the three business entities; the Quilchena General Store, RV Park and golf course and the Quilchena Hotel.

Photo by Phil Braig
Photo by Phil Braig

HistoricQuilchena Hotel

The youngest Guichon brother, Joseph, owner of the Home Ranch in Quilchena built a grand hotel; it illustrated all of the elegance of his European background in what was then quite a “Wild West” milieu.

The large hotel officially opened for business July 3, 1908, in prosperous times. Nearby Nicola Lake was a popular tourist destination and the Quilchena Hotel also served as a stopover point for stagecoach travelers. The glory days lasted until the start of WWII, which slowed business severely. The crippling combination of the war, Prohibition and the growing popularity of the automobile led to the closure of the grand establishment in 1917.

After a 41-year hiatus, a grand reopening was staged in 1958 and it has been operating ever since. The new ownership plans to continue operation into the foreseeable future and when the Quilchena Hotel reopened in the spring of 2014 under new ownership and management, the menu now prominently features Douglas Lake Ranch One-Eleven (111) branded beef.