UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The British Columbia ranching frontier, 1858-1896 Thomas, Gregory Edward Gwynne

Abstract

This thesis is an examination of the origins and development of the British Columbia ranching community and livestock industry. The argument is based on the assumption that the settlement of the Southern Interior Plateau stimulated the growth of a peculiar agricultural economy dependent primarily on stock raising, which in turn, played a prominent role in the region's political, economic and social development. The British Columbia ranching frontier was preceded by the practical foundation of agriculture and animal husbandry in the Oregon country under the guidance of the Hudson1s Bay Company and its maturity under the independent American settler. With the discovery of gold in British Columbia, the American ranching frontier extended northward temporarily to fulfill the demands of the mining market and in the process the Interior livestock industry was established. Through the implementation of a pre-emption system and the hesitant introduction of pastoral leases, the colonial administrations slowly came to realize that the settlement of the Interior Plateau depended initially upon the promotion of stock raising. In its first stage of settlement, the isolated ranching frontier did not experience serious competition for site nor did one ethnic, social or economic group control the region's development. With the gradual decline of the mining industry and the frustrations surrounding the transcontinental railway, the new province of British Columbia entered a decade of economic recession. For the Interior ranching community, however, it represented a period of gradual economic expansion and growing influence in the political sphere. Once railway construction was finally commenced in 1880, the ranchers' concentration upon stock raising during the past two decades stimulated a period of unparalleled prosperity and land consolidation for the established Interior ranching population. After 18 8 5 the character of Interior settlement and the livestock industry began to experience the inevitable transitions of a more mobile and industrialized society. While the cattle ranchers, as the largest landowners, maintained a comfortable livelihood, they were visibly alarmed by the formation of large ranching companies and the growing competitive strength of the Alberta ranching frontier. Nevertheless, while the broader problems of the ranching industry now required a more united front, the established ranchers continued to operate on an independent, individualistic basis. Ultimately, this led to tension within the ranching community itself and a declining role in the economy of the province.

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