Immigration the Cowboy Way
BC's Quilchena Cattle Company has been "breaking in" newcomers since the Cariboo Gold Rush
By Kerstin Auer
Guy Rose greets me with a big smile, as I stand terrified while his German Shepherd is checking me out. “Just let her lick your hand and you’ll be fine.”
I gladly follow the advice of this charming 82 year old cowboy and the dog starts wagging its tail. We settle into the living room of his home on Nicola Lake and his German wife Hilde joins us. I soon forget about the dog, while Guy and Hilde bring the story of the Quilchena Cattle Company to life.
Guy’s ancestors immigrated to Canada from France in the mid-19th century, drawn to British Columbia by the promising Cariboo Gold Rush. The four Guichon brothers soon realized that the promise of riches and fortune was an empty one, and directed their endeavors to other business ventures. Joseph, the youngest brother – Guy’s grandfather – ended up coming to the Nicola Valley and founded the Guichon Ranch in 1882. His innovative approach and pioneer spirit proved successful – the Guichon Ranch soon grew into one of the largest in the area. Joseph and his wife were the first ranchers to introduce Hereford cattle to British Columbia, and the ranch successfully breeds Herefords (as well as Angus-Herefords) to this day.
In 1908 the Quilchena Hotel was added to the ranch but had to close its doors in 1917, after World War I and Prohibition had made it impossible to run the hotel profitably. The Guichon ranchers persevered, however, and the family business was passed on from generation to generation. Just before Guy Rose was ready to take over the ranch in the third generation, he went on an extended trip to Europe in 1954 to explore the land of his ancestors; on the ship to Rotterdam he met his future wife, Hilde. Even though Hilde’s father was not exactly thrilled that his daughter was marrying a Canadian cowboy, she followed Guy to Canada and became part of the successful immigrant family, a newcomer herself.
The ranch was divided among family members in 1956 and the newlyweds Guy and Hilde Rose took over the southern half of the ranch, which has since then been known as the Quilchena Cattle Company. Even though the cattle has always been – and still is – the main source of income for the entire business venture, Guy and Hilde decided early on to revive the Quilchena Hotel. A close friend had been telling them that it would be a shame not to use the potential of the heritage building and the Roses agreed – they rolled up their sleeves and went to work with a healthy portion of pioneer spirit, much like Guy’s ancestors. The hotel reopened in 1958, and though it had a slow start, business increased steadily. Eventually the Roses had to hire staff for the summer seasons.
With a strong immigrant background in their own family, it seemed natural for Guy and Hilde to employ Canadian newcomers. Over the last 55 years they have given countless immigrants from all over the world a chance to start their life in Canada. People from Germany, Japan, Italy, Ireland and Finland have been among the hotel staff and cowboys employed at the ranch; the majority of them still call Canada their home. Due to Hilde’s connections to her home country, she knew there were a large number of German immigrants who were looking for the free cowboy life. “Back in the 70s everyone knew who Old Shatterhand (the hero in a series of westerns by German Novelist, Karl May) was, everyone in Germany watched the movies and wanted to be a cowboy,” Guy remembers. With a smile on his face he adds: “Some of them had to overcome several culture shocks.”
Even though most of the newcomers he employed managed to build successful lives in Canada, there were a few who failed. He vividly remembers an Italian couple who were put in his “care” by the provincial government in the 1970s. The Italians wanted to buy a ranch in Canada and thought they needed some cowboy experience before they made their investment. It probably was a good idea to do a trial run first – when Guy saw the couple arriving in white riding pants and designer boots, he had his suspicions that they might be in for a rough ride. He sent them to “cow camp” to live and work with the cowboys – without electricity or running water. The white pants did not stay white for very long and after three weeks the couple had realized that being a cowboy is not just about romantic evenings by the campfire, while the cattle graze in the background.
Guy and Hilde still remember most of their immigrant employees by name and have stayed in touch with many of them over the years. One of the Japanese cowboys who worked for them went on to find employment with the Canadian government; others went on to successful careers in trades as well as the logging industry. The couple agree that some of the newcomers were a great inspiration to everyone on the ranch and their eagerness contributed to the success of the Quilchena Cattle Company. When asked what the secret of their success is, Guy and Hilde don’t have to think about it – perseverance and stubbornness.
By passing this attitude on to new Canadians they employ and giving their employees the chance to do the same, they have facilitated many successful immigrations – an accomplishment to be proud of!
As I leave the Rose’s home, I feel inspired by the stories they shared. I walk to my car and the German Shepherd is right back at my side. I let him lick my hand – and I’m fine.