A Visit to the Bar U Ranch – a National Historic Site.

Bar U

I had the treat of spending a few hours over the past long-weekend visiting the Bar U Ranch which is not far from High River, Alberta. My daughter, Kristen, and I had a great time listening to the Parks Canada guides, wending our way through the 100-year-old buildings and simply enjoying a pleasant day of mid-20-degree temperatures under a gorgeous blue prairie sky.

Bar U Ranch Entrance

The Bar U Ranch highlights a work culture celebrated nowhere else in Canada – cattle ranching and the changing role of the cowboy over time. The seven decades of history represented at the Bar U follows the progression of ranching from the time of the open range, through the early days of fencing in the prairie and on into the age of mechanization.

George Lane fights off wolves

The above photo depicts George Lane, a bigger than life character, fighting off wolves while working on the Bar U – a ranch he purchased in 1902. Lane is best remembered as one of the “Big Four” – ranchers who underwrote the first Calgary Stampede in 1912. Lane was also known for his world-renowned Percheron horses. In October of 1909, Bar U Percherons won almost every event they entered in the Seattle World’s Fair.

Famous Bar U Percherons

Bar U horses

The Bar U sits square in a space and time when Alberta becoming part of Canada was not a done deal. With the long-promised completion of national railroad spanning the breadth of our huge country, the incentives provided by the surveying and parceling out of prairie land and a good deal of PR, southern Alberta was settled and the United States was kept from land grabbing a huge swath of the Canadian prairie.

The life of a cowboy

The above quote caught my eye. In and out of the saddle for sixteen hour days, sleeping rough for untold nights with nothing but a bedroll to keep out the elements – not an easy life.

At its largest, the Bar U covered almost 158,000 acres. Over 10,000 cattle and 800 plus horses grazed on land controlled by the Bar U.

I was interested to visit this national historic site for a couple of reasons. Canada 150 Celebrations mean all our national parks are free of charge. Always a nice perk. I have become interested in the history of this area since my daughter and her family relocated here last year. Over the summer, I listened to a CBC podcast entitled: Heroes, Hustlers and Horsemen – history like you haven’t heard it before. These are whiskey-soaked, rough and tumble biographies about larger than life figures who shaped southern Alberta in the tumultuous late 1800s.

John Ware stamp

The last podcast in the series covered the life of John Ware, a former American slave who became a legendary cowboy and rancher in southern Alberta. His story was quite fascinating and mentions his time at the Bar U. In 1882, Tom Lynch, Bar U Ranch veteran cattle drover, hired on a few hands from Texas to help bring a large herd of cattle seven hundred miles up from Montana to Southern Alberta. John Ware was one of those Texans. In a rough world, Ware established himself with deeds rather than words. A man of legendary courage and strength, a skilled horseman with a straight forward honesty, he gained the respect of most everyone he met.

Bar U buildingsDo check out the podcast on John Ware and listen to the whole Heroes, Hustlers and Horsemen series.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to this National Historic Site. Canada has so much to offer to citizens and travellers alike. Have you visited any of our National Parks for the Canada 150 Celebrations? There’s still time. Go for it.

How Does the Muse Strike You?

IMG_3336

If you’re a writer of fiction, and you’ve gone as far as to put a couple of the stories you’ve written out in the public realm, it won’t be long before you’re faced with an awkward question. Someone is going to ask – where did this story come from?

People want to know why we wrote a particular story, where we got the idea. If you’re anything like me, when this inevitable question pops up, you’ll stand there with a blank look on your face while you’re mind races for an answer. It isn’t grade school anymore, and you won’t get away with saying, “I don’t know, I just thought it up.” Though there is certainly truth in that.

Lately, I’ve had two ideas for future novels. I know . . . two ideas! That doesn’t seem fair, does it? But lucky for us writers, the number of ideas out there is endless.

The first idea came about when I read a name somewhere – Renard. It stuck in my mind. I rolled it over my tongue again and again as I did my daily walk, and before I knew it, a second name came along. Renard Charbanneau. To be named is to become real. I could see this man, and I had a glimpse of his life.

I had been tossing around the idea of a novel set at a university. Renard found his way into that setting before the end of my walk. A few hours later I had a number of characters and the outline of a major conflict.

The second idea was two strands that came together in a flash. We had been invited out to dinner last week. Our host kindly offered to take us on a boat ride down to the end of the lake. I’m not a fan of boating and to be honest it isn’t boats as much as boat operators that make me nervous. But our host was a man who could be trusted behind the wheel of any moving vehicle.

We zipped around the small islands and coves and played lookie-lou as we came upon a dozen or so cabins tucked in here and there, some long deserted. We also stopped to stare in amazement at a couple of slides that have come down the mountain in recent years.

The next day I happened to listen to a podcast about survivor’s guilt on CBC radio. Something clicked. All of a sudden I had a setting, a background experience the main character was running away from, and a dramatic event.

I end up at the keyboard when the muse shows up the way it did for these two ideas. A few quick notes are usually all it takes. I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot better when I have a few story ideas hanging around. There is nothing like running out of “the juice”, as our old friend Ernest Hemingway used to say, to strike fear into a writer’s heart and soul.

The kind of experiences I’ve described above used to happen to me all the time. I’ve always played around with the juxtaposition of ideas. The only difference now is that I have wholly embraced the wild and crazy reality of being a writer, so I take note.

P1060981

I’m big on garden walks and lake views when it comes to inspiration. Where do your story ideas come from? How do you play around with what the muse offers?