a western legacy
John Brewster moved to Alberta from Ontario in 1886 and established his homestead at the base of Yamnuska mountain, which today is the Kananaskis Ranch.
More than a century after his sons, aged 10 and 12, took their first guests on a horse pack trip a unique group of companies, operating in Banff National Park, Lake Louise, Banff and Kananaskis, are operated by fifth and sixth generation family members. They make up the Brewster Company.
In Forty-five minutes west of Calgary and 30 minutes east of Banff is the Kananaskis Guest Ranch, operated by Janet Brewster-Stanton. Opened in 1923 by Missy Bagley Brewster, Bill’s wife, the original Brewster family homestead entertains groups ranging from wedding parties to conference attendees with western barbecues, and backcountry horse trips. Janet also runs the 18-hole Kananaskis Ranch Golf Course, on the north side of the ranch.
In downtown Banff, the Brewster’s Mountain Lodge opened in 1996. The 77-room hotel, complete with historic family photos in each room. “We tried to make it as uniquely back-country as we could,” says Janet, noting that the Brewster’s have operated back-country lodges throughout the generations and wanted to bring that feeling to downtown Banff.
Ten minutes outside Banff lies Brewster’s MountView Barbecue, run by Alison Brewster and Bryan Niehaus. The year-round western corporate event and reception facility caters to groups of 50 or more and features the family-named ‘donut’ tents. The tents, designed by Alison’s, Cori’s and Janet’s grandfather and modernized by their father, are permanent structures with a bonfire in the middle.
Between Banff and Lake Louise, Alison Brewster and her husband, Bryan Niehaus, also operate Brewster’s Shadow Lake Lodge, a quaint back-country hiking and cross-country ski lodge.
In Lake Louise, Kevin Stanton, Janet Brewster’s husband, operates Brewster Cowboy’s Barbecue and Dance Barn, which hosts western barbecue dinners and live entertainment for corporate and incentive groups of 50 to 400 people. Kevin also operates the Brewster Lake Louise Stables, where guests can take sleigh rides to the end of Lake Louise and in warmer months, trail rides to the Lake Agnes or Plain of Six Glaciers teahouses taking in the mountain views that have made this region famous. Brewster Mountain Pack Trains, the oldest outfitting company in Alberta, offers guests an experience in the Canadian Rockies on horseback, with multi day and custom horseback backcountry trips featuring rustic log cabins.
The Brewster Transport Company, established by Jim and Bill in the 1930s, was sold to outside interests in 1965 and is today a publicly traded American company, separate from the following family-run businesses.
a BRIEF HISTORY
The Brewster Family, real life mountain pioneers and cowboys in the Canadian Rockies, have been taking care of visitors to this area for over 100 years.
A long and colorful history of Brewster descendants have all made their mark on a variety of family businesses. Here is a brief summary of some of those family members who have been involved in the guest ranching and outfitting side of Brewster history.
In the shadows of the Canadian Rockies in Banff National Park, John Brewster clearly saw the bright future his parents had left Ireland for. William and Sara Jane (Irvine) Brewster had just prior to the Great Potato Famine.
Born in Kingston, John felt the lure of the western Canada, after his brothers had explored much of the area. In 1886 John followed the Canadian Pacific Railroad to Banff, Alberta, deciding this would become his home. His wife, Isabella, and four sons arrived on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1888, a rather auspicious occasion for an Irish family about to begin a new life. Two more sons and one daughter would be born in Banff, completing the original Banff family. John soon identified a need for a dairy to service not only the growing community, but the CPR Hotel as well. The dairy was not as busy during the winter months, and so the need to keep the dairy herd outside of the National Park became necessary. It was there at the base of Yamnuska Mountain, which today is the Kananaskis Guest Ranch, where John established the family's homestead.
Two illustrious sons, William (Bill) and Jim, decided there was much more to Banff than the dairy farm. The boys became expert mountain men, skilled at camping, hunting and exploring Banff's mountainous terrain, thanks to a close native family friend William Twin. In fact, they took their first outfitting trip at 12 and 10 years of age as a request of the Banff Springs HotelManager.
The family returned to Banff when Bill became General Manager of Brewster Transport. By now the family thoroughly enjoyed guest ranching and moved to the ranch homestead at Seebe where Sylvia (or Missy as she was called fondly by family and friends) was to build the Main Lodge in 1922. Ready for guests in 1923, many visitors from the midwestern United States followed Bill and Missy to Alberta to continue to enjoy their flavor for adventure and western hospitality.
Their son Bud happily took the reins of the ranch business. Under his careful guidance and business acumen, he and his wife Annette took the foundation his father and grandfather had begun and simply began building. For 65 years, Bud expanded the family tourism business and created profitable entities such as Brewster Mountain Pack Trains, Kananaskis Guest Ranch, Shadow Lake Cabins, Mountview Barbecue and Catering, Lake Louise Stables and Dance Barn, Brewster Mountain Lodge and the recently completed 18-hole Kananaskis Ranch Golf Course.
Janet is the General Manager/Owner of the Kananaskis Guest Ranch. The Guest Ranch, now hosts groups for western barbecues, conferences, incentive/corporate events and weddings. Just like in the 1920’s, guests can still enjoy overnight pack trips, and western barbecues. An 18 - hole Golf Course, opening in 2001, is now an additional activity at the ranch.
LETTER BY "MISSY" BREWSTER
By Mrs. "Bill" Brewster (June, 1936)
All dude ranches are operated, more or less, along similar lines. Each must have beautiful scenery, good saddle horses and competent guides or cowboys. Some will be "running" cattle, some horses, some will be straight dude ranches, (We, at Kananaskis are raising Mrs. Bill Brewster Thoroughbred Horses) but the outstanding difference in each ranch will be in the personality of the management or ranch family. At Kananaskis you will find a western family, with the real old style western spirit and hospitality.
RIDING - Riding, of course, furnishes the chief amusement on any ranch, but this does not mean that you must be an expert rider or take lessons at a Riding Academy before coming to Kananaskis, as we take special care of those learning to ride and there is no place where you will learn to ride, well, as quickly, as on a western ranch.
A private horse and outfit is provided each guest and we try to give all a suitable horse. Before the summer is ended horse and rider become the best of friends. One gallop over the bunch grass and you will never forget your ranch pony.
The rides surrounding the ranch are lovely, either over the trails into the high mountain sections, through the foot-hill country on the Stoney Indian Reservation or plateau riding. Each day a ride is arranged, in which all guests may join, if they wish. Several times a week all-day trips are taken, for which there is no extra charge. Some member of the family or one of the cowboys, will accompany the party on these trips. On these trips we leave the corrals with our lunch tied to the backs of our saddles, ride to one of the numerous lakes near the ranch, explore the surrounding country, swim, cook our meal over a campfire and then ride back in time for dinner at night.
Or it might be our night meal we take out, climb to some high plateau to watch the sunset, rest and chat awhile and then all ride home together through the moonlight. These moonlight and sunset rides are very popular. The guests often organize their own parties for the day to go fishing, mountain climbing, or just to ride to some place that they particularly like. The younger people, especially, like riding with the cowboys when "wrangling" the saddle horses night or morning, or rounding up some special event. Many evenings are spent playing polo, having paper chases, treasure hunts or playing other games from horseback.
When the day's riding is over, however, one is glad to sit on the cool verandahs and watch the sun turn the sky to gold as it sinks behind the mountain tops, and when the shadows grow long on the hillsides and the peace of the night settles down we are glad to go inside where the fire throws it flickering light over all, and join in the games at the pool table, story telling, dancing, singing or just "set" and "let the rest of the world go by".
ROPING - A great deal of amusement is had while learning to pack, throw the diamond hitch, spin the rope, tie a hondo on your own lariat, lasso your own horse and in the cowboy's vernacular, "watch your sea grass go driftin' down the draw".
POLO - A very amusing time is had by our guests in their attempts at playing polo.
SWIMMING - Although the rivers and lakes near the ranch are cold, guests swim in the Bow River and one usually sees a good many bathing suits tied to the backs of the saddles when a riding party starts out for
HIKING - Those who enjoy walking will find many interesting trails leading out in all directions from the ranch. Along these trails the wild flowers grow in profusion.
CAMPFIRE - On moonlight nights a campfire is often built on the bank of the river in front of the ranch house. This is always an occasion for a happy time. The Bow and Kananaskis Rivers reflecting the moon on the mountain peaks makes a very beautiful setting. A number of our guests get their first enthusiasm for camp life around this fire and plan for their first camping trip after listening to the thrilling tales of those who have slept beneath the stars.
Early Fishing FISHING - The best fishing to be had will be found in the lakes and streams adjacent to the ranch. Large fish of the Dolly Varden and Cut Throat types are caught in the Kananaskis lakes. These lakes are noted for their wonderful scenery.
INDIANS - A summer spent on the ranch gives those interested an opportunity to study the red man on his own stamping grounds. The country is full of Indian lore. Our guests enjoy the ride through the foot-hill country to the Agency and the Indian Trading Post on the Reservation. Here the Indian Braves bring their trophies of the hunt and the squaw their buckskin and bead work to trade for the white men's food and clothing. They also bring their handicraft to the ranch. The Stoney Indians excel in Archery and during the summer hold an Archery Meet at the ranch.
STAMPEDE - Although most Easterners have seen a stampede, round-up or rodeo few have taken part in one, but after visiting the famous Calgary Stampede, which takes place in July, our guests come back just "a rarin" to hold one of their own. Several times during the summer a Guest's Stampede is held at the ranch. Here one has the opportunity to try his skill at all the western sports which he has so often watched and cheered from the grandstand. After the Guests' Stampede the cowboys give an exhibition of their skill while the guests look on from the top of the corral fence.
To amuse one while indoors there is a variety of books, piano, pool table, radio and numerous games. The radios are not in the main buildings so one need not listen to them unless they wish.
The meals consist of plenty of good wholesome food served in ranch style upon long tables. The eggs, butter, cream, milk, meat, vegetables are strictly fresh. Fresh fruit when obtainable. The ranch makes a specialty of its home-made bread.
After a long day spent in the saddle the ranch house is a very welcome sight, and the Cook's call of "Grub Stake" the most cheerful sound in the world.
Kananaskis Ranch is situated in a beautiful section of the Canadian Rockies, in the Bow River Forest Reserve, on the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway and on a direct line of the Soo Railway from Chicago and St. Paul
The ranch buildings are located on the bank of the Bow River at its confluence with the Kananaskis River. These rivers are both very lovely in color and form. At the meeting of the waters the river takes on the form of a large lake of beautiful deep blue.