Friday, April 02, 2010

The LK Ranch

For more 20 years I have made my way down the switchback trail at the end of Range road 274, off of highway 22X, that leads down to the Bow River at McKinnon Flats southeast of Calgary. In all those years that I have passed by the abandoned buildings located on the flats just off of the trail, I have wondered who it was that at one time made this beautiful place their home. There have been days when the fishing was slow and upon trading my fishing gear for my cameras, I have gone exploring along the Bow and on more than one occasion, I have explored this old homestead located against the north slope of the valley. While trekking about in the cottonwoods nearby, I found a old steel wheel tractor that appeared as though it was abandoned, where it may have stopped running one day and has been long-forgotten about.

 There were other times while cutting across the flats from a day of wading the Bow, that I found other remnants of days gone by. I have shot photos of red-tailed hawks patrolling the hillsides in search of their next meal, as well as Bald Eagles soaring overhead, and of the many songbirds and game-birds located in the Willows throughout this valley. It is a rare visit to the flats that I do not see Mule deer browsing the bottom land of the river valley and adjacent ravines. At one time or another, I have searched the Internet for the history of "McKinnon Flats" and all that I found was information in reference to this being a popular destination for fly-fishermen and nature watchers.

In all the years that I have fished the Bow at McKinnon Flats, I took it for granted that nothing would change this very cool place along the Bow. Was I wrong on that count, as lately McKinnon Flats as I knew it changed forever. I had decided to drive down to McKinnon Flats to shoot photos in and around this homestead just after sunrise. As I began my descent down the switchback trail to the flats, I watched for the homestead to come into view, and all that appeared were smouldering ruins and a blackened hillside from a very recent fire. I was shocked by this, although somewhat relieved to see that the old barn was still standing. Now it is possible that this fire was by design, as two weeks later, there has been a lot of work done on the site, that includes dragging my favorite old steel wheel tractor out of the cottonwoods, and placing it as well as other treasures found nearby on display near the remaining barn. Still, I am glad that I have shot many photos of this neat homestead the way it was.

I was determined to find out more about who lived there, and with a lot more digging I hit pay dirt. My first clue came while speaking with a old friend of mine who grew up in the Chestemere Lake area.
He remembered attending picnics at the McKinnon place as a kid, and the community of Dalemead south of Langdon came up. Upon searching the Internet with the names McKinnon and Dalemead in the same phrase together, I found a photo from the Glenbow archives that had me very excited as there was my barn. The photo shows the homestead at McKinnon Flats dating back to 1910 and at the time known as "The LK Ranch." I found several other photos in reference to the LK Ranch, including a photo of nine of the Mckinnon chidren taken on the ranch.

While searching for more information, I found reference made to a book "Cowboys, Ranchers and the Cattle Business" by Evans-Carter-Yeo, and I found a copy of this book in my favorite bookstore "Fairs Fair" that I added to my library. I soon discovered that the LK Ranch was originally started by Lachlan Mckinnon who moved west from Ontario in 1886. Once out west he worked for many of the largest cattle companies as a cowboy before taking a homestead south of Dalemead on the Bow River and starting the LK Ranch. In 1893 he married Sara Whitney of Langdon, and who together they would raise a family of 13 children on the LK Ranch. Being quite far from a school, they hired a governess and had a school for their children on the ranch for several years, until in 1908 a school was started in nearby Dalemead where all the children attended school. The LK Ranch holdings were quite large and at one time stretched from Indus to Carsland.
McKinnon Flats is a favorite destination for many fishermen, as well as nature watchers. I found it fascinating to read about the history pertaining to one of my favorite nature areas located in Southern Alberta. I would bet that if I asked the next one hundred fisherman who fish at McKinnon Flats, not one of them would have any idea as to the history of this place on the Bow known as "McKinnon Flats" - once known as "The LK Ranch."

Note: all photos expand.

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