E.P. (Prince Edward) Ranch, established by the Bedingfeld family in 1886, is located in the foothills southwest of Calgary near the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site. In 1919, during a cross-Canada tour, the Bedingfeld’s ranch captured the fancy of His Royal Highness Edward, Prince of Wales, upon his visit to the area. Prince Edward purchased the ranch shortly thereafter from Frank Bedingfeld. Under Edward’s direction, the ranch developed a breeding program for sheep, cattle, and horses with livestock imported from the Prince’s breeding farms in the Duchy of Cornwall in England. Prince Edward, later King Edward VIII, visited the ranch in the 1920s and in the 1940s and 1950s, after his abdication, as the Duke of Windsor. Photographs in the Glenbow Archives show Edward and his wife Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, strolling among the ranch buildings that still stand at the site today. The E.P. Ranch was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2004 for its association with Edward, who owned the site from 1919 to 1962. Fans of the 1992 movie Unforgiven will also recognize scenes shot on location at the ranch.
In June 2013, the E.P. Ranch found itself at the epicentre of the torrential rains that flooded communities and historic sites across southern Alberta. Pekisko Creek overflowed its banks and swept through the site, turning grazing lands into a virtual river. While the large and distinctive horse barn was unaffected, four other buildings were damaged. The need for flood repairs kick-started an ambitious conservation program by the property owners. Work began with the reestablishment of road and bridge access washed out by the flood and the removal of deep gravel deposits, deadfall, and other flood debris deposited throughout the site.
Building conservation began in early 2015 with repair of the main ranch house, a building extensively renovated in 1922 for Prince Edward. The interior, with its coffered ceiling and large fieldstone fireplace bearing the initials “EP”, harken back to Edward’s days at the ranch with his entourage. Flooding of the basement crawl space caused cupping of the hardwood main floor, while the porch foundation was scoured and undermined by flood waters. The red exterior, in written accounts of the 1922 renovations, was nowhere in evidence until stripping of the clapboard exterior revealed, to the owner’s delight, a small patch of early red paint that had once been protected by flashing. This colour was matched to a rich red using colour swatches from the G.F. Stephens Company, a Winnipeg paint manufacturer which supplied much of the paint used up until the 1920s in southern Alberta. This physical evidence supported restoration of the historic colour after the repair of siding damaged by water and gnawing, or “cribbing”, by deer and grazing cattle.
Flood waters had also undermined the embankment beneath a chicken coop, leaving one corner of that building suspended precariously above the now greatly widened bed of Pekisko Creek. Before repairs could begin, the embankment beneath the undermined corner needed to be rebuilt with material quarried from the extensive gravel deposits left by the flood.
Nearby, a large log cabin dating back to the ranch’s early days was stripped of interior walls, and other materials added after the 1960s, to expose the log structure for inspection and repair. An unexpected discovery was the outline of a steep, narrow stairway on the whitewashed east wall which pre-dated a larger stairway which we suspect was originally part of the Prince’s house. These insights into the buildings’ history open up interesting rehabilitation possibilities.
Conservation of the 1880s log cabin and chicken coop, which combines both log and frame elements, will be a major undertaking. Work will continue on these buildings in 2016 in an effort to preserve the history and integrity of this important historic place.
Written By: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Adviser