Most people think Historic O’Keefe Ranch is a great place to take visitors but many don’t realize that it is a not-for-profit society run by a small, paid staff and a group of dedicated volunteers.
“I always liked to bring my guests to the ranch and when I realized there were volunteers here, I knew it was something I’d love to do,” said Margaret (Korky) Grant, who has been volunteering at the General Store for five years.
“It’s so interesting to meet people from all over the world. I remember a really nice couple from Russia. Even Canadians and Americans think this is such a marvelous place for a city like Vernon. And I love the school classes. The children are just so intrigued with the old things One of the times I always smile is when the hand-made ice cream maker is used. They can’t believe you can make ice cream that way.”
Grant, 80, who lived on a ranch in the Peace River for 40 years, and has been in Vernon for 15 years, can be found in the General Store Tuesdays in her old-fashioned skirt and blouse, and her grandmother’s 1890 cameo and a watch on the chain around her neck as was the style at the time. She enjoys seeing the children pick out the old-style candy in the store and talking to them about the artifacts on display.
The store is only one part of the ranch, which remained in the founding family as a working ranch from 1867 until the family restored it and operated it as a tourist attraction. The ranch became a heritage site in 1977.
“It’s good for children to learn about how things used to be and our volunteers do a great job of helping us do that,” said ranch general manager Catherine Lord.
Volunteers are needed to work in the buildings, the gardens (including a heritage rose garden), grounds, maintenance indoors and out, equipment maintenance, cataloging collections, making costumes, and helping at special events with music, children’s activities and directions for visitors. Some volunteers appear in period costume (supplied) and character and share the history of the ranch with visitors. Training is provided.
Volunteers are also needed to help care for the animals (the heritage breed animals spend the winter at a local farm).
“We need so many different kinds of skills. Some people choose a particular project and complete it in their own time without having to keep to a schedule. For example, we had a couple who worked on a fence for us. We really appreciate our volunteers,” said Lord.
People can also help keep the history of the ranch alive with the Adopt-a-Building Program, sponsoring the restoration of buildings in whole or part, or with donations of any amount. Grant, in addition to her volunteer time, makes a $1,000 donation to the ranch each year. This year she has specified that it go towards updating the public washrooms.
“Korky makes a great contribution to running the General Store, as well as spending time there, she helps keep track of the inventory and keeps it dusted,” said Alicia Kay, ranch marketing and special events.
The O’Keefe family, which has grown with members around the country now, is still interested in the ranch. There was a family reunion there in 2000 which brought together more than 100 of Cornelius O’Keefe’s descendants from his First Nations first wife and his subsequent two wives.
“I encourage people to think about what they know that they can do to help the ranch. You meet so many people and learn so much and have so much fun,” said Grant.
There will be a volunteer fair April 16 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the ranch for people to learn more about volunteer opportunities. People from high school age and up welcome(parents and younger children happily accepted). For more information call 250-542-7868 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
O’Keefe Ranch was founded in 1867 by Cornelius O’Keefe, who came from Ontario in his early 20s to drive cattle from Oregon to B.C. to provide food for the gold miners. As the cattle drives stopped to rest at the north end of Okanagan Lake, he realized that this would be a good place to raise cattle rather than bring them all the way from Oregon. He pre-empted 161 acres of land.
By the early 1900s, O’Keefe and his business partner, Thomas Greenhow, owned a ranch of 15,000 acres and produced cattle and grain. In 1907, 12,000 acres were sold to a group of Belgian settlers. O’Keefe died in 1919 and the ranch was operated by his youngest son, Tierney, and his wife Betty until 1977 when the buildings and furnishings were sold to the Devonian Foundation of Calgary, which gave the site to the City of Vernon.
The ranch has 10 pre-1900 buildings, including the original family log house (1876), the O’Keefe Mansion (1886) with the family furniture, china and art, St. Anne’s Church (1889), and the log barn (1890). The Schubert House (1892) and the Balmoral School (1912) were moved to the site.
There is a collection of antique farming and ranching equipment. There is a working potter and a working blacksmith on site.
Many special events are held throughout the year, starting on Mother’s Day and including Cowboy Days where B.C.’s contemporary working cowboys show off their skills, the Spring Murder Mystery Dinner Show, Vintage Motorcycle Races, Grandparents Day, and Victorian Christmas.