The future of the ranch is in question. For years now, despite its historical significance, tourism at the O’Keefe Ranch has failed to cover operating and maintenance costs. The city of Vernon has been giving it significant yearly assistance.
Recently though, that assistance plan has been dramatically cut, leaving the historic site questioning what the future may hold.
On our visit, Vernon was far too hot for my liking. You won’t find many tropical Runaway tours for this very reason (Thailand doesn’t count. I was living and working there – it wasn’t a holiday – I wasn’t running!).
I was unable to check out the ranch in its entirety for this reason. I was literally passing out while perusing the boardwalk shops!
Cornelius O’Keefe, an Irishman from Ontario, was very driven. He was the first cattle farmer in the North Okanagan to open a general store on his property. When built, his ranch home was considered to be the most expensive and elaborate in the interior of BC.
It was also Cornelius O’Keefe who rallied locals in 1871 to demand postal service from the newly formed Canadian government.
In 1872, his wish was granted, and Cornelius would spend the next forty years functioning as area postmaster.
St. Anne’s, a Roman Catholic church on site, was built in 1889 – and is still a popular venue for weddings.
The interior of the O’Keefe home has been left (as much as is possible) in it’s original state. The family made a few changes in their later years there, which have been mostly retro-graded to resemble the homes interior state circa the late 1800’s.
The home smelled old. I have been to many historic homes, but this was the first one that contained the overwhelming smell of age.
It was almost too much (really, it was the heat – I was already melting by this point).
I rushed through a bit faster than I would have liked.
What I appreciated about the ranch home, in comparison to some other historic sites, was that it was not overtly dressed up. In fact it still looks like a farm house.
Sure, there is a formal sitting and dining room, but the rest of the home looks like a hardworking, conservatively minded farming family once resided here.
Worn, used and loved – for many decades. You could picture the multitude of O’Keefe children and grandchildren running wildly through the halls (9 with the first wife, and 6 with the second!).
There was even evidence of broken rails on the staircases – reportedly from the daily slides.
There were more than a few interesting artifacts in the home. I had to laugh a bit at the ‘trail medicine’ (whiskey) in its fancy leather case.
And the ‘gentleman’s tea cups’. Back in the day of the absurd moustache, arsenic was used in the waxy material used to hold the stache at high point. When that arsenic hit the warm tea, it melted and joined the liquid being consumed.
Many men died this way! And so came the invention of the fancy ‘stache cup’.
But one of my favourite artifacts had to be the music player.
A huge perforated metal disk was forced awkwardly into a bendy angle inside the wooden contraption, then held down by a metal arm. Once turned on, it spun like a record, playing metallic notes like a tiny music box.
That’s exactly what it sounded like.
I have seen many old music bits, many gramophones, but I have never seen anything in my travels like this giant music box. And it had volume!
If you can, show a little support to the struggling Historic O’Keefe Ranch. It would be a real shame to see it fall into further disrepair. Even more a shame to imagine it being torn down and redeveloped.
And if you are out in the area anyway, why not stop in at ‘Dave’s Goat Walk’? Did you know that goats are one of the oldest domesticated animals?
You will find lots of them to interact with (and a bridge with a pulley system for clever self feeding), a pile of impressive historic remnants, a few ridiculous oversized things (gorilla, swan, dinosaur), scads of old school candy (awesome!) and random cute stuff in the (easy to miss – inside, side entrance, left) gift shop.
The log barn that houses all this goodness was built in 1912. Inside (for a price), you can pick up some fantastic Mennonite goods.
The pies were so enormous and impressive – they didn’t even look real!
Additional photos in the slideshow.
- Dave’s Goat Walk (wheretogetthereandhow.com)
- City decision threatens funding at O’Keefe Ranch (vernonmorningstar.com)
- Time limit for O’Keefe Ranch funding (vernonmorningstar.com)
- Vernon looks to reduce financial commitment for O’Keefe Ranch (vernonmorningstar.com)