Cochrane Ranche Walking Trail
Welcome to the Cochrane Ranche Historic Site. We hope you enjoy your visit. This Trail Guide directs you on a self-guided walking tour. The tour requires light hiking ability and will take approximately one hour to complete. Find the numbered posts that correspond to the stops along the trail and learn about the history, landscape, flora and fauna at the Ranche!
1. Westerson Cabin
This cabin was built in the mid-1920’s and was moved to the Ranche from its original location close to downtown Cochrane. Ted Westerson talks growing up in Cochrane and the cabin when it sat on Cochrane’s west end. Watch a video about the cabin at https://chapscochrane.com/the-westerson-cabin/
This monument commemorates the local businesses that operated here after the Cochrane Ranche. The Collins Brickyard, Shelley Stone Quarry, Cochrane Creamery, Beynon-Davies Dairy Farm and Gilbert Ranches were all important in building and sustaining this community. The cairn was a project of the Cochrane Historical & Archival Preservation Society (CHAPS). The Collins Brickyard established in 1902. Clay was dug from pits and the bricks were dried in kilns built along the south fence you see today. The distinctive yellow bricks can be seen in the St. Andrews United Church on First Street and a few other buildings in Cochrane. In 1919, the Beynon-Davies dairy farm began operations here. It was a very successful farm that survived the Depression of the 1930’s, partly because of its high level of self-sufficiency. The fieldstone foundation dairy barn sat below the Men of Vision Statue, east of the encampment.
2. The Corral
This reconstructed 1880’s corral is the type of enclosure that would have been used on the Cochrane Ranche. The reconstruction includes a center square and gates used for branding and inspection. The windmill-like section at the side is called a windlass. Its design and mechanical advantage enabled one cowboy to lift heavy weights. The post in the center of the rear corral is called a snubbing post. When cowboys first trained and saddled their horses, they tied them to this post.
3. Interpretive Murals, Residence and Bunkhouse
The images illustrate the history of the Cochrane Ranche. The footprints of the Cochrane Ranche manager’s residence and the cowboys’ bunkhouse are laid out here, in their original locations. The murals tell the story of Senator Cochrane and the Ranche, James Walker, the first Manager, along with others who homesteaded in the area.
4. Men of Vision Statue
The Men of Vision statue shows an older, unnamed cowboy looking out over the bluff at his ideal spot for a ranch. This bronze statue commemorates all the pioneer ranchers and cowboys of the West, the early “men of vision,” who, along with school teachers, missionaries and pioneer women, came to Alberta with a dream and launched the cattle ranching industry still vital to the province today. The statue was created by self-taught sculptor Malcolm (Mac) Mackenzie, who lived in the area for most of his life and worked on many local ranches and trail ride operations. At one and a half scale and weighing 3600 lbs, the statue was cast in England, shipped in three pieces and assembled here in 1979.
Stop for a moment and glance around. It may not seem important at first, but these grasslands are the reason the foothills were settled by ranchers. Native grasses such as rough fescue — the predominant bunch grass you see — are crucial because they retain nutrient value in winter and are excellent winter forage for livestock. This area of native grasslands located on the Ranche are vital to our ecosystem. Did you know that grasslands and rangelands are more resilient carbon sinks than forests? Learn more at Glenbow Ranch…
The bedrock here is sandstone and shale formed 50 to 60 million years ago. Streams flowing north from Waterton Lakes area along the eastern slope deposited sand and mud
that hardened into sandstone and shale. The small cliffs you see are made of sandstone, a rock less resistant to erosion than shale.
7. Shelly Quarry
The Shelley Quarry, once located on the Ranche, produced the sandstone blocks required for buildings by law, after the Calgary fire of 1886. Bricks were also used in the building of the famed Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The current building once the Western Heritage Centre, is now the Cochrane RancheHouse, home to Town of Cochrane Administrative Offices, a 209-seat theatre and banquet/meeting facilities. The “Trust” mural located in the foyer can be viewed weekdays. The Bert Sheppard Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation Library and Archives is also located at the RancheHouse. The Library and Archives collects and preserves the history of western ranching and livestock industry. They have a large collection of historical artifacts and displays, including photos, saddles, bronzes and art, and a player piano.
8. Coulee Slopes
The bottom of the coulee is a good place to look at the adjacent slopes and their vegetation. The north-facing slope is shaded for much of the year and is cooler and moister than the opposite slope. It is covered with large stands of spruce and aspen with a handful of Douglas Fir trees. By contrast, the south-facing slope gets direct sunlight all day. It is very hot — almost
desert-like — with scrub brush and prairie grasses.
9. Grandfather Tree
This white spruce tree is estimated to be over 300 years old. Its large root system grows down to reach water as well as up to support the weight of the tree. Notice the lack of undergrowth nearby: it’s too shady and the soil is too acidic for local plants to grow. Please do not climb on and around the roots. This contributes to soil erosion which may eventually kill the tree. First Nations used white spruce for canoes, snowshoes, bows and food. https://www.toronto.com/community-story/7529071-natural-roots-discovering-a-300-year-old-white-spruce-at-cochrane-ranche/
10. Big Hill Creek
The meandering Big Hill Creek provides habitat for numerous species, from birds to bears to moose and more. It is a valuable wildlife corridor to and from the Bow River valley. The spring fed creek is an important spawning area. Guy Woods has some amazing footage of the spring Trout hatch. The Cochrane Ranche is involved in an ongoing program to return the creek to its natural, healthy state. Check out the research done by the Big Hill Springs Preservation Society.
11. Wolf Willow
Though commonly called wolf willow, this plant species is not a willow at all — it belongs to the Elaeagnaceae (Oleaster) family and is related to thorny and Canada buffaloberry. Wolf willow enrich the soil. Wolf willow’s silvery sheen is common throughout the prairies on coulees, cutbanks and hillsides. When winter comes and the leaves fall off, the silver berries stand out against the white snow and bright blue prairie skies. Wolf willow berries were used by the Blackfoot Nation: the berries were boiled to remove the flesh and the pointed nutlets strung onto necklaces or used to decorate the fringes on clothing. Each seed is dark brown with yellow stripes. The bark was used to make strong fibre baskets useful for collecting berries.
12. Gilbert Residence
The newly renovated Clubhouse located on the Cochrane Ranche Historic Site was originally the Gilbert Residence – the home of the last family that ranched the property. The house was a “Sears Catalogue Home” and every component – down to silverware – was shipped out in train boxcars ready to be assembled. It was built somewhere between 1920-1950.
13. Cochrane Historical Museum
The Cochrane Historical Museum offers a rich sense of the past not only with extensive archives but also with caring people and precious memories. Despite being small in size, the museum is packed with comprehensive information that is thoughtfully organized and displayed. The only cost to a visitor is a feedback comment in the museum’s guest book—a fair exchange indeed for history and cultural enthusiasts. The museum is dedicated to telling the history of
the Town of Cochrane. The building was built in 1909 and is faced with brick from the Collins’ Brickyard, which was located on the site of the Cochrane Ranche. Click here to read more about the Museum.
Cochrane Ranche Brand
The large “C” was the distinctive symbol used on the Cochrane Ranche to brand the livestock. A brand was used to distinguish its livestock from those of the neighbouring ranches; 2020 marks 139 years since this brand was first used.
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