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New caretakers at Kootenay River Ranch

Another family takes a turn at making a home and memories

We’re barely into January and already there is change. “The Farm” is gone. It wasn’t my farm, but it was a chunk of pasture and hayland in south eastern B.C. that has been a big part of my life for the past 40 some years.

Let’s face it, it was just dirt and grass but it is surprising that even though you don’t own it or live there anymore, driving Kelly Road into Kootenay River Ranch at Fort Steele, B.C. (just outside Cranbrook) always brought the feeling that you were home. But the place is sold.

The Masi family is moving out and a new ranch family from Stavely, Alberta, is moving in. It now becomes someone else’s home.

My history with the place goes back to the mid-1970s. It had long been a ranch bordering a good stretch of the Kootenay River but probably for a generation or more the land — some developed pasture and a lot of fir and pine forest — had been used mainly as pasture for yearlings and horses. To be honest it needed some TLC.

Joe Masi (my brother-in-law) and his uncle Gus Fiorentino had been dabbling in the beef business on an acreage for a few years. They had heard of these new exotic European beef cattle called Simmental. Geez, five or 10 of these fullblood and percentage Simmental looked good, wouldn’t 400 head look better? So they got together a partnership of five — relatives and friend (their accountant) — Joe and Gus, along with Angelo Fiorentino, Frank Fiorentino and Lou Rodgers and bought this raw piece of farmland about 10 miles from Cranbrook. About the only assets were an older mobile home, a couple of log cabins along the creek and a stunning view of the Rocky Mountains that would knock your socks off.

The place needed to be built literally from the ground up. Hayshed, barns, calving clinic, workshop, corrals, fences. What was left of the long-neglected old infrastructure had to taken down, and replaced. Joe left behind a lucrative career as a heavy duty mechanic and took on the role of ranch manager — but perhaps as no surprise even with his cowboy hat on he could never get too far from the welding torch and wrenches. The learning curve began.

Joe, a bachelor at the time, moved into the best log cabin, and since I was around the farm just about everyday lending a hand with whatever, they asked my wife and I if we’d like to move into the trailer — no rent, just help out as I could. Well that seemed like a great offer, so we packed up the house in Cranbrook and moved to the trailer at Kootenay River Ranch. My wife and I, our newborn daughter, and two dogs.

We stayed about a year then moved back to town. I was working for the B.C Forest Service at the time and I got the notion that a fulltime career change was needed — get back to writing before I completely forgot how to spell — and eventually we moved from Cranbrook to Lethbridge, Alta., — back to the newspaper business.

Joe got married. He and Susie built a proper house in 1984. Their kids — Andrea and Matt — eventually showed up and the ranch had a family. The farm, with the view that would knock your socks off, for years served as a gathering place for a large extended family to mark both happy and occasionally sad occasions. It always felt like home.

So fast forward to 2018. It’s been about 40 some years since the ranch started and darn it all if people didn’t get older. The ranch partnership decided it would be a good time to sell. A new ranch family decided it would be a good time to buy.

It is often said in farming “you don’t own the land, you just borrow it from the future generation.” It is a similar situation whether it be Kootenay River Ranch or the Eastern Ontario farm where I was raised — you borrow it for a while to raise families and make memories and then comes the time when it gets passed on to new people. It’s the circle of farming life.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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