GUICHON, JOSEPH, rancher and entrepreneur; b. 22 Oct. 1843 in Chambéry, France, youngest of the five sons of Jean Guichon and Annette Veil; m. 11 Nov. 1878 Josephine Rey (d. 1929) in Keating, B.C., and they had four daughters and three sons; d. 30 April 1921 in Vancouver.
Joseph Guichon was a significant figure on the British Columbian ranching frontier in the 19th century. His considerable success in stock raising and, more important, in marshalling and consolidating land was overshadowed by the achievements of the neighbouring Douglas Lake Cattle Company (DLCC). Nevertheless, as an independent without large financial reserves Guichon was probably more typical of his ranching contemporaries in the interior of British Columbia.
Born in the Savoie region of southern France, Guichon left at the age of 14 for Paris, where he worked for a vintner or distiller. In 1862 he followed his brothers Charles, Laurent, and Pierre to the Cariboo goldfields of British Columbia via London, Liverpool, New York, Panama, and San Francisco. Travelling on a freighter carrying pioneers and sheep, he made his way from California to Portland, Oreg., and thence to the crown colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, which he reached in March 1864. He hiked from the Fraser valley to Barkerville [see William Barker*], where he teamed up with three other prospectors. Despite a few lucrative strikes, Guichon’s mining experience was a failure. He wintered in Victoria and returned to the interior in 1865, finding employment on the Ashcroft ranch managed by Charles Augustus Semlin and with a nearby Basque rancher named Minabarriet. The next year he hired on with Jean Caux, known as Cataline, the French packer who provisioned the goldfields using the old Hudson’s Bay Company brigade trails.
It was while wintering horses in the Nicola valley in 1866–67 that Guichon first became aware of the ranching potential of the district. His own small herd thrived on a homestead he obtained in the area of Savona’s Ferry (Savona) in 1868. He subsequently took up land at Mamit Lake to the south where, along with his brother Laurent and a small number of francophones from both Quebec and France, he began to develop a farm. In the autumn of 1877 the geologist George Mercer Dawson* found Guichon growing “grain of all Sorts & potatoes with success,” despite the high elevation. Around 1878 Laurent and Joseph relocated to Chapperon Lake, some 25 miles to the southeast, establishing their base of operations at the Home Ranch. Throughout the decade they each acquired additional properties in the valley.
Joseph married Josephine Rey in 1878 at Keating, near Victoria. Rey was also from Savoie, but the pair had met for the first time at Mamit Lake through mutual friends. Josephine arrived at the Home Ranch from Victoria in 1879 with their first-born, Lawrence Peter. A second Rey sister married Laurent that year, and the two families combined land resources in the Nicola valley area, forging a chain of grazing properties from Mamit Lake to Chapperon Lake.
Within a few years the Guichon ranch became centred to the east of Nicola Lake, on Lot 105 of Township 97 (which was surveyed in 1881 and where Joseph and his family moved in 1882). Its history was one of almost perpetual expansion, though not as rapid or as great as that of the DLCC. One of the first properties acquired by the syndicate that would become the DLCC was the Guichons’ Chapperon ranch in 1883. The brothers divided the spoils so that Joseph retained some 1,400 head of livestock while Laurent retired to the coast with the cash proceeds. Joseph Guichon’s headstart in ranching allowed him to take advantage before 1885 of the food demands of the construction crews on the Canadian Pacific Railway. His ranch was roughly equidistant from the divisional points at Kamloops to the north and Spences Bridge to the west. After 1885 he marketed his cattle mainly in the burgeoning town of Kamloops. Guichon’s relationship with the DLCC was sometimes uneasy. Suffering from a lung ailment in the 1880s, he sought a cure in San Francisco; when he returned a short time later he found his 320 acres at nearby White Lake completely surrounded by the DLCC’s new holdings. Not to be entirely outdone, Guichon gradually increased his own holdings in the Nicola valley and obtained leases to huge tracts of crown land. He expanded his spread to the north in the 1890s, acquired the Quilchena Ranch, hotel, and general store from Edward O’Rourke in 1904, and bought the Triangle Ranch in 1911 with $40,000 loaned to him by Joseph Blackbourne Greaves of the DLCC. By the time of his death the Guichon lands included nearly 40,000 acres of deeded land in addition to leases on over half a million acres of crown land.
Guichon repeatedly experimented with diversification. Around 1880 he obtained Percherons and Thoroughbreds which he raised for the North-West Mounted Police (and later the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and the Vancouver police. He imported purebred Herefords from Quebec in 1894 to improve his cattle herd. In 1908 he replaced the old Quilchena roadhouse with the opulent Edwardian structure that still stands, using single Douglas fir studs that ran the full height of the structure. Later he incorporated fixtures rescued from the demolition of the first Hotel Vancouver in 1913. Additionally, he erected a new general store (the first stone building in the valley), raised sheep, and branched out into fox breeding. Not all of these efforts were successful. Like many local contemporaries, Guichon hoped that his hotel would both attract and profit from a CPR branch line. The railway never arrived, however, and in 1918 the hotel closed for more than 30 years, a victim of Prohibition and changing transportation routes and technologies.
Guichon retired in 1918, dividing his holdings among his seven children (according to French custom). Josephine and Joseph moved briefly to California before returning to British Columbia in 1919. Guichon died in Vancouver on 30 April 1921. Never at the centre of economic or political power, he had had close links to one of the largest agricultural businesses in North America (the DLCC) and connections with two provincial premiers (in addition to Semlin, he knew the family of George Anthony Walkem*). The lasting grandeur of his Quilchena operations is testimony to his personal ambition. The family name survives in the Gerard Guichon Ranch Limited and on the local map at Little Guichon Field, Mount Guichon, and the enormous, mineral-rich Guichon Batholith; Guichon Creek flows through what is idyllically known as “the Valley of Guichon.”
Kamloops Museum and Arch. (Kamloops, B.C.), Vertical files, Guichon, Dr L. P. Inland Sentinel (Kamloops), 20 Jan. 1881, 15 April 1963. H. S. Cleasby, The Nicola valley in review ([Merritt, B.C., 1958]). G. M. Dawson, The journals of George M. Dawson: British Columbia, 1875–1878, ed. Douglas Cole and Bradley Lockner (2v., Vancouver, 1989), 2. Sandra Klein and Gerard Guichon, “The Guichon family,” Nicola Valley Hist. Quarterly (Merritt), 11 (1993–94), no.1: 3–12. Landmarks and branding irons: a guide to some historical ranches in the Nicola valley of British Columbia (n.p., [1988?]). Nicola Valley Arch. Assoc., Merritt & the Nicola valley: an illustrated history (Merritt, 1989). N. G. Woolliams, Cattle ranch: the story of the Douglas Lake Cattle Company (Vancouver, 1979).