Written by: Fraser Shaw, Heritage Conservation Advisor
If you’ve ever driven down the beautiful Cowboy Trail, chances are you’ve driven by at least a few historic ranches. Some of these ranches, like Bar U and E.P., have been operating for over a hundred years.
Another of those ranches is the Circle L Ranch, started by a storekeeper from Salt Lake City in the late 1800s. The site recently underwent a restoration project to help ensure historic small-scale ranching in remained intact and accessible. The ranch is a Provincial Historic Resource and an excellent example of an early family-run ranch in southern Alberta.
Established in 1896 by Charles Lyndon in the Porcupine Hills west of Claresholm, Circle L (or Lucasia) Ranch features log and wood frame buildings and landscape features clustered around a spring. The spring provided a crucial, reliable year-round water supply. One of the earliest buildings is the small log “Spring House” that straddles the spring-fed stream. A wood trough leads water through the building and helps chill the interior, even in summer, for the storage of perishable foods. Small items are kept in a wood cupboard while game is hung from hooks on the roof purlins.
Over many years, rot of the lower logs at vulnerable spots like window openings caused the building to settle and twist, eventually making the door unusable. In 2014, owners Judy Lucas and her late husband Wayne embarked on an extensive program to conserve the centrepiece of their home and historic site. All logs were identified with tags and the building was disassembled so that rotted material could be extracted and replaced with matching new timber in the protection of an adjacent Quonset. Logs were reassembled in the original sequence and the structure was returned to the original site on a new foundation of discreetly placed screw piles. The piles were introduced to keep the logs out of the stream bed, to prevent decay of the timber, and to secure the building from torrential floods from the hills above. The log repairs were carried out with traditional materials and skills, from the sourcing and tooling of local timber to filling of the gaps with “daubing” of lime, horsehair from the ranch, and clay-rich mud from a nearby creek.
The conservation project was completed in July 2019 thanks to the commitment of the Lucas family, grant assistance from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, and the careful work and expertise of Joe Madarasz, Jim Chinnick and the team at JJD Contracting. The Spring House straddles the spring-fed stream and is used today as it was originally by its builder, Charles Lyndon.