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Australian Ranch south of Quesnel receives Century Farm Award

The Yorston family has been ranching on the property since 1903
B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham presents a Century Farm Award to Bob and Lenore Yorston during a visit to Australian Ranch Ltd. south of Kersley. Photo courtesy of the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture

The Yorston family has been ranching south of Quesnel since 1903, and their Australian Ranch was recently recognized with a Century Farm Award for 100 years of ranching in B.C. and contributing to the agricultural industry.

“Australian Ranch is a beautiful and productive ranch with a remarkable history going back over 100 years,” provincial Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said in a press release. “The long-standing service from those who have worked on the ranch has helped ensure agriculture remains in the community and British Columbians have locally-grown, raised and harvested products now and for generations to come.”

Popham joined Robert (Bob) and Lenore Yorston, two of their daughters, Holley and Kerri, and several members of the younger generations of the Yorston family to help celebrate the Quesnel-area ranch and present the family with the award.

“It is an honour to receive the Century Farm Award, but most of all the privilege of farming and ranching on such a beautiful, fertile and historic property in British Columbia,” said Lenore Yorston. “We have hosted many events here on the Australian Ranch, including opening the farm yard, along with the family corn maze, so we can showcase this fertile Fraser River bench and all it offers. The fifth generation is addicted to farming, as were the four generations before them. No doubt, the Yorston family will be farming the Australian Ranch for many decades to come.”

Century Farm Awards honour agricultural organizations that have been active for a century or longer, as well as pioneers whose farms and ranches have been in families for 100 years or more.

“We display the sign Agriculture Minister Popham presented to us with great pride,” said Lenore. “Thanks to all for the recognition.”

In 1903, Bob and his brother John bought the 607-hectare (1,500-acre) ranch. It was named after the small area in B.C. and the creek that divided the property — both named Australian — by the men to first farm the land, who had followed the Australian gold rush to the Cariboo gold rush in 1864. The brothers took over running the farm and stagecoach stopping house that lodged travellers.

Bob and John eventually made the farm larger by clearing land with hand tools and horses to grow grain and hay crops.

In 1909, Bob was elected as the director of Quesnel’s newly-formed board of trade, and he was granted title to the land in 1914. John was instrumental in organizing the Cariboo Farmers’ Institute in 1915, and both brothers became charter members. In 1916, a school was built on Australian Ranch for local children to attend.

In 1921, Bob and John built a dairy barn and specialized in cream production. In 1938, operation of the ranch was transferred to John’s sons, John (Jack) and Donald Yorston. In 1974, Jack’s son, Robert (Bob) James Yorston took over the operation.

Today, the younger Bob and his family run a cow/calf operation on the ranch. The younger Bob is hopeful that his young grandson and granddaughter will someday become fifth generation of ranchers and follow in the Yorston family’s agricultural footsteps.

“We are so grateful the two Yorston brothers, in 1903, chose such a fertile property with a lovely micro climate on the benches of the mighty Fraser River,” Lenore said in an email. “We feel privileged to farm successfully in such a wonderful area as the Cariboo and the province of B.C. The Yorston family had to be very tenacious. It seems the ranch is always fighting one battle or another. Above all, farming is in our DNA. It’s something you can’t pretend to enjoy — you wouldn’t survive.”

Two of Lenore and Bob’s daughters work with them on the ranch, and they have two resident grandchildren.

“The 10-year-old boy plays a major part of the day-to-day operation of the farm, especially when putting up feed for the 180 head of cattle,” said Lenore. “Our three grandchildren who live in Strathmore, Alta., wish they could live here. They visit for a couple weeks every summer and are a major part of our haunted maze in October, along with their mother (our middle daughter).”

At Australian Ranch, the Yorstons also operate the Cariboo Corn Maze, Haunted Maze and House, a nine-acre corn maze that has a different theme each year, which is created using the corn they grow to make corn silage for their cattle.

Lenore says they did a practice maze in 2003, and in 2004, they did a maze for entertainment for the 160 relatives and friends who came to their Yorston Gathering to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Yorstons owning and operating the Australian Ranch.

“It was such a hit that we opened it to the public and have done so every year since,” said Lenore. “Haunted mazes were a natural evolution — 2005 was the first and, very surprising to us, a terrific success.”

This year, the corn maze opened at the end of July and is open every day from dawn to dusk until Oct. 20. Admission is $2 per person, except for the family days on Oct. 5 and 13, where admission is $5 per person and includes wagon rides, sand piles, the maze, a slightly haunted house and barnyard animals on display between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

This year, the Haunted Maze and House will be open Oct. 4 and 5 and Oct. 11, 12 and 13 from 7-9:30 p.m. Admission is $7 per person, cash only, and a concession will be available.

The Yorstons offer a night maze for groups of at least 10 people, and they charge $3 per person. They light the fire and turn lights on around the entrance of the maze, and they need to be notified of your group’s attendance in advance. To book a group for the night maze, email or phone 250-747-8339.

READ MORE: Province funding B.C.’s second regional food hub in Quesnel

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