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Black Cat Guest Ranch
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80 Years

History of the Black Cat Ranch

The Black Cat Ranch was founded in 1935 by Major Fred Brewster, a member of the famous Brewster family from Banff. He offered a variety of vacation experiences in Jasper, and wintered his horses in the Brule area. He had guests who were interested in a ranch type vacation, and decided to build the original log cabins on the ranch property.

Building Old Lodge
Crew Building the Original Lodge - 1935

The ranch opened in 1935, operating under the name "Brewster's Rocky Mountain Ranch", although the property was known as the Black Cat Ranch. The name comes from Black Cat Mountain, just south of the ranch. Fred offered daily trail rides much as we do today, as well as using the Ranch as a jumping off point for pack trips into the north end of Jasper National Park and the area that today is Wilmore Wilderness Park and Rock Lake - Solomon Creek Wildland Park.

Evening around the fire - 1940
Evening around the fire - ca 1940

The outbreak of the Second World War pretty much brought tourism to a halt. The ranch was rented to Shell Oil who were doing some exploration in the Solomon Valley. The present barn had just been built but was unfinished inside when Shell came on site. They converted the barn into a bunkhouse with six bedrooms and a central lounge area. The evidence of these temporary walls can still be seen in the barn today. The Shell Solomon Creek #1 well proved to be unproductive and was abandoned. After Shell left, Mark and Agnes Truxler, two of Fred's trail guides stayed at the ranch as caretakers until the end of the war. Agnes and her sister Mona Matheson were important to the history of Jasper National Park as the first women ever to be licensed as trail guides in the Park.

winter-1940
Winter Water Hauling - ca 1940

Fred operated the Black Cat until the mid 1950's. When he retired, he sold off his holdings to some of his staff. Tom Vinson acquired the backcountry operations in Jasper and the Wilmore, and Red Creighton took over the Black Cat Ranch. Fred had two registered horse brands which he used on his horses. The "Three Step" brand was sold to Tom Vinson, and the PB brand was taken by Red Creighton.

Creigton Family
Black Cat - 1950's

When Red took over operation of the ranch, he felt it necessary to change its name, just to show a change in ownership, as the Brewster family was so well known. Red took the horse brand and began operating under the name PB Guest Ranch, although the property continued to be known as the Black Cat Ranch. Red operated the ranch much as Fred Brewster had, until the early 1960's when he sold it to Dave Slutker, a member of the Slutker Furs family from Edmonton.

Dave was primarily a big game hunting guide, and used the Black Cat as a base camp for fall hunting trips. In 1966, the property was sold to Anne and Jack Dvinski, school teachers from Clyde, Alberta.

The Dvinski's changed the focus of the ranch, opening only for the two summer months, offering a children's summer riding camp. They continued to use the name PB Guest Ranch.

kidscamp
Overnight campout with childrens camp group, early 70's

In 1969, Hilary Shannon attended the riding camp. She fell in love with the place and when she heard it was for sale, she mentioned the fact to her parents, Harold (Buzz) and Peggy. Peggy's sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Jerry Bond, had just sold their farm machinery business in Lethbridge and were looking for a tourism property. The Bond's and Shannons came out, looked at the ranch, formed a partnership and purchased the business in 1970. They continued to operate the childrens camp, but also began to move back into the historical business of the ranch, offering a guest ranch vacation to individuals and families. The four partners worked in Edmonton, coming to operate the ranch in the summer, as well as beginning to open for major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. During these early years, Jerry also guided some hunting trips.

Jerry & Mary Bond
Jerry & Mary Bond

Buzz & Peggy Shannon
Buzz & Peggy Shannon

In 1972, the Bond's daughter Amber married Perry Hayward, also from Lethbridge. Their wedding was held at the ranch.

Lodge - 1977
New Lodge nearing completion - 1977

By 1976, it became obvious that the only way the ranch was ever going to be successful was for it to become a year round operation. This posed a logistical problem as the original log cabins had never been built with the intent of year round use, so a new building was the solution. Jerry designed a 16 room lodge, keeping in mind the atmosphere present in the original log lodge. At this time, Mary and Jerry became full time residents at the ranch. Amber and Perry and their infant son Jonathan also joined them, along with Amber's brother Doug, and another partner, Jim DeBock. The construction of the lodge took nearly a year, with the partners doing much of the work. It opened for guests in July 1977. As we began building up our year round business, we continued to operate the childrens camp out of the log buildings until 1980. In 1982, we found that the name PB Guest Ranch was lacking, so we decided it was time to take the Black Cat name to its logical use, and began operating as Black Cat Guest Ranch, although our corporate name is still PB Guest Ranch Ltd.

Evening around the fire - 2003
Evening around the fire - ca 2003

Over the years the family partnership has changed. Doug and Jim moved on to other ventures. Peggy and Buzz moved to the ranch and Hilary lived on and off the ranch, finally becoming a permanent resident. The Haywards added a second son, Ryan. Hilary has two children, Connor and Franchesca. Doug, Jerry and Buzz have sinced passed away. Mary and Peggy are now retired and living in North Vancouver.

The intervening years have seen some things change and others stay the same. After many year of offering trail rides, (many to the same destinations that Fred Brewster used in 1935) we have discontinued offering trail riding. This was a difficult decision, but economics and changes to the demographics of our guests made this inevitable. We have also added many specialty events that Fred Brewster would never have dreamed of.

The Black Cat Ranch has become known across Alberta and around the world for great home cooked meals, quiet relaxation, outdoor adventure, and spectacular mountain scenery, all offered by a family management who, after 45 years, still step outside every day and wonder at the beauty that surrounds us and look forward to sharing that with our guests.

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Perry & Amber Hayward

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Revised March 11, 2017
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