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The Quorn Ranch Company, North America

The Quorn Ranch(e) Company was an English syndicate formed in 1886 and was one of the largest and most famous British North American ranches. The company acquired land on the Sheep River near Okotoks, Alberta in Canada. It brought horses from Britain with the intention of breeding hunters for the British market. In the 1890’s Angus cattle were also introduced but the ranch was not a financial success and was broken up and sold off in 1906.

Quorn Ranch – the Origins
Charles William Martin of Quorn Place (now the Quorndon Fox) was the initial guiding force behind the Sheep Creek Ranch Company, and it was following his visit to the area in 1884 that he set the stage for what was to become the Quorn Ranch. He secured a substantial amount of funding from his friends, family, and members of the Quorn Hunt. Even with this support the ranch was constantly short of funds. Charles, (1850-1895), was the great uncle of Sir Robert Andrew St George Martin of The Brand at Woodhouse (1914 to 1993), Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire.

The Cattle were imported from Montana and by 1886 the herd exceeded 1500 animals. Things were going well until the severe winter of that year had a devastating effect when the cattle were unable to feed on the prairies. The company had failed to buy in enough feed to maintain the herd and the fierce storms killed off most of them. The Sheep Creek Ranch was now on the brink and several partners left. A new company the Quorn Ranche Company was constituted and took over the ranch with Charles W. Martin, the Quorn Hunt Club and Quorn gentlemen providing the funding.

The corporate headquarters were situated in Leicester with Martin as the president and George Francis Farnham as the Secretary. George’s older brother, William Farnham of Quorn House also invested, and this was a factor cited in his bankruptcy in the early 1890s. To read more about William and his bankruptcy see Artefact 1041.

Charles Martin died in Montreal in April 1895 aged 45. His body was shipped back to England and he is buried in Quorn St Bartholomew’s Churchyard.

Initial Success
Although some cattle continued to be kept after 1886, the Quorn Ranch concentrated on breeding hunter horses for the British Cavalry and the Quorn Hunt, and the ranch management became known for producing top quality horses and cattle. Twelve thoroughbred stallions were imported from England and ‘Eaglesplume’ was to become one of the most well-known early names in western thoroughbred racing and breeding history, as he sired the outstanding racehorse, May W, foaled in 1894.

The well respected John Ware, often described as ‘Canada’s most famous black cowboy’ worked at the Quorn Ranch and was in charge of the horse herd. His ability in handling horses became legendary and it was stated in the local press that ‘The horse is not running on the prairie which John cannot ride’.

The Ranch Fails
The ranch facilities were modernised and extended; however, the company became reliant on Imperial Bank of Canada loans for funding. Martin and some of the other’s quest for the high life and lavish lifestyle over many years, including using the ranch as a summer playground, meant full attention was not directed to the business affairs. The company was underfunded and in debt to the bank, which meant that it eventually ceased trading in 1906.

Sadly, although many fine cavalry and hunt horses were bred, few made it back to Quorn or into the British Army and after the company failure many ended their lives as plough animals. The land was sold off and is now used for housing and public park land. Quorn Ranch Park in Ototoks is a remaining link to what was an ambitious and large ranch with Quorn connections.

The above is a summary of information collated from several web sources. The photographs are courtesy of the Glenbow Archives and show the ranch in 1893 before extension and ‘Eaglesplume’ one of the original 12 Quorn breeding stallions.

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 Submitted on: 2021-03-07
 Submitted by: Dennis Marchant
 Artefact ID: 2441
 Print: View artefact in printer-friendly page or just on its own.

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