The name Skrine Creek has been officially adopted for a previously unnamed creek in the Porcupine Hills. The name commemorates Walter and Agnes “Nesta” Skrine (pronounced “screen”), who were early operators of a medium-sized ranch in the region. The spring-fed creek rises in the Municipal District of Ranchland No. 66 and flows northerly into the Municipal District of Willow Creek, where it joins Mosquito Creek approximately 24 kilometres west of Nanton.
Walter Skrine was born in Somerset England in 1860. After receiving his education at Oxford University, he managed a coffee plantation in Ceylon until the early 1880s. In either 1883 or 1884, he to migrated to the Canadian northwest, where he began ranching along the Highwood River in the “Pekisko Hills” (Little Rolling Hills) region. After losing most of his cattle during the disastrous winter of 1886/87, he moved further west and established a ranch on Mosquito Creek. He chose the site due to the protection offered by the surrounding hills and the plentiful water supplied by the area’s creeks and springs. He settled first as a squatter, but later filed on a 160-acre homestead and leased nearly 16,000 acres of surrounding land. Starting with 200 head of cattle, he grew the herd to 700 head by 1898. Walter was active socially and politically within the ranching community. He ran, unsuccessfully, for the Territorial Assembly and, in 1885, the North-West Stock Association, a protest movement against the policies of the existing territorial stock association, was formed during a meeting at Skrine’s house in 1885.
In 1895, Walter travelled to Ireland where he married Agnes “Nesta” Shakespeare Higginson of County Antrim. Walter and Nesta travelled back to Canada, where she took an active role in the daily activities of the ranch. Nesta was a very well-educated young woman and a talented writer and poet. She was published throughout Europe, mainly in Blackwood’s Magazine, under the pseudonym Moira O’Neill. She also published a short novel, The Elf-Errant (1895) and two books of poetry, Songs of the Glens Antrim (1900) and More Songs of the Glens of Antrim (1920). Ranching life and the landscape of the Canadian West provided inspiration for much of her prose and poetry, notably a prose piece entitled “A Lady’s Life on a Ranche,” which has been republished in many anthologies about southern Alberta ranching history, and a number of poems in both of her published books.
Unlike many of their fellow ranchers, the Skrine’s welcomed the arrival of farmers into the region and assisted many of them in establishing themselves. However, the transition of the local economy from ranching to farming put pressures on many ranchers. In 1902, Walter and Nesta sold the Bar S Ranch to a neighbour and returned to Ireland. They settled at Ballyrankin House in County Wexford. In 1921, the house was burned by Irish patriots, one of many such attacks on English gentry during “The Troubles.” Undaunted, the Skrines, purchased the Newlands House, about a mile away and re-christened it as Ballyrankin House. Walter Skrine died here in 1930 following a hunting accident. Nesta Skrine died on January 22, 1955. As of 2011, the Bar S Ranch continues to operate on the same land originally selected by Walter Skrine in the 1880s.
The proposal to name this water feature Skrine Creek was received from Clay Chattaway, the current owner/operator of the Bar S Ranch in September 2009. The proposed name was supported by both Municipal Districts, the surrounding land-owners and descendants of the Skrine family living in Ireland. The proposed name received the approval of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation in November 2010 and the Minister of Culture and Community Spirit in February 2011.
Click here for a full view of Aerial Imagery of the Region Around Skrine Creek.
National Topographic System Map Sheet: 82 J/8 – Stinson Creek
Latitude/Longitude: 50° 16′ 56″ N & 114° 5′ 57″ W to 50° 19′ 37″ N and 114° 6′ 18″ W
Alberta Township System: Sec 20 Twp 15 Rge 1 W5 to Sec 5 Twp 16 Rge 1 W5
Description: Rises in the MD of Ranchland No. 66 and flows north into the MD Willow Creek No. 6. The creek flows northerly into Mosquito Creek, approximately 24 km WSW of Nanton.
Additional information about Walter and Nesta Skrine and the history of the Bar S Ranch can be found in the following resources:
Skrine, Agnes, “A Lady’s Life on a Ranche,” In A Flannel Shirt and Liberty: British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian West, 1880-1914, edited by Susan Jackel, 95-110. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1982. Originally published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine vol. 163 no. 987 (January 1898).
Higginson, T. B. “Moira O’Neill in Alberta,” Alberta Historical Review vol. 5 no. 2 (Spring 1957): 22-25.
Klassen, Henry. “A Century of Ranching at the Rocking P and the Bar S.” In Cowboys, Ranchers and the Cattle Business: Cross-Border Perspectives on Ranching History, edited by Simon Evans, Sarah Carter and Bill Yeo, 101-122. Calgary: University of Calgary Press and Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2000.
Blog Post Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer and Geographical Names Program Coordinator