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Tall in the saddle

Put city life on hold at guest ranches

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The Fremlin family has been hosting guests at the Flying U since 1980.

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The Fremlin family has been hosting guests at the Flying U since 1980.

OK, pardner, listen up close 'cause I ain't got time to tell ya twice about the way things used to be.

Long ago, there was this place they called cowboy country, way up in the B.C. Interior. Nothin' but cowboys, horses, mountains and wild critters.


Heck, that was long before all this technology stuff came in. Them was the good old days, the real deal, ridin' tall in the saddle on a real ranch.

Pulling into the Flying U Ranch, on Green Lake northeast of Clinton, right away modern life in a big city seems like a distant memory.

The Flying U is Canada's oldest working guest ranch, established in the 1820s by the Northwest Fur Trading Company. It boasts quite a history and it's still goin' good.

During the gold rush of the 1860s, the ranch became a roadhouse and then in 1923 rodeo star Jack G. Boyd took over.

Jack's friend, cowboy movie star William S. Hart, came up with the ranch's moniker, named after a Hollywood movie. Boyd used to host an annual rodeo that rivalled the Calgary Stampede for top riders.

They even shot Canada's first movie right on the ranch.

Being authentic means none of that fancy wall-to-wall carpeting or air conditioning.

No sir, you want some fresh air, you open the front door of your cabin. Rustic is the best word to describe the ranch, except for the new lodge, built recently to replace the old one that burned down. That's where they serve up huge lashings of ranch-style food, including bacon and eggs in the morning and steaks and pork chops at night.

The Fremlin family has been operating the Flying U since 1980, keeping the ranch's old-fashioned charm but slowly adding new attractions, like the museum, which shows relics of the old days.

What makes the Flying U different than most guest ranches, though, is its policy of self-guided riding.

You choose a horse in the corral at 8 a.m. (actually, the staff will fit you with one) and off you go until 4 p.m. Not one of those one-hour guided trail walks here.

They'll pack you a lunch and you can stay out all day. Hundreds of acres of rolling hills and open meadows to explore. After a hard day riding on the trails, mosey on in to the Longhorn Saloon for a cold one.

At night, the kids can catch a movie at the Black Horse Theatre. There's a group campfire every night and old-fashioned stoves in the cabins.

It's a family-style place where you can see the stars. In the sky, that is, not in the obit section of the newspaper.

'Course, you being in the area already, you might want to wander up the road and say hello to Dimps Horn over at Watch Lake Lodge.

Dimps, she's been there longer than the Fremlins at Flying U, I figure. The Horn family's been running the Lodge since 1950.

Aside from the trail rides, they've got rustic cabins, trout fishing, boats to rent and an old candy store for the kids. Dimps used to be the local schoolteacher, so she'll tell ya about the old days if you ask. Swimming's darned good in the lake, too, I hear.

Now, if you want to learn about the good old days in these parts, then Hat Creek Ranch is the place you ought to go.

They call it a ranch, but it's really a living museum, the kind where they bring the past to life with "animators," actors all dressed up to resemble cowboys, Indians, miners, cooks, maids and gold panners from the Gold Rush days.

Just like up in Barkerville, only a lot closer to get there from here.

It's all pretend, for sure, but at Hat Creek they're real good at it.

Here in the dry rain-shadow climate east of the Coast Range Mountains, a unique blend of cowboy cultures evolved over the years, set in a landscape of sage, bunchgrass and Ponderosa pines.

Why, there are stage-coach rides and trail rides and panning for rubies in the creek, drum making, blacksmithing and storytelling.

To bring native culture alive, they've got a sweat lodge and bannock (bread) making and you can camp in a teepee or a kekuli (native pithouse). On the way comin' or goin', make sure to drop into Clinton, a real cowboy town, and check out the museum and the Palace Hotel on a walking tour.

They're fixing that old 1879 hotel up pretty good, may be open for guests again in the future, just like in the good old days.

Up in cowboy country, the more things change the more they stay the same.


-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 7, 2013 E3

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