Many little girls dream of growing up to be a cowgirl, but Lenore Bews was born a cowgirl. She was on horseback almost before she learned to walk.
“Being born into a ranch family means that everyone lends a hand. I started riding when I was two and by the time I was six, I was helping to check cows and trail them to the summer pasture in the hills of Sullivan Creek. We tented in the hills near the cows during different times in the summer to keep an eye on things,” remembers Bews now McLean.
“We lived on the Y Cross Ranch with only a prairie trail to connect us to the nearest community of Longview which was 10 miles away.”
“Those years were my most cherished memories as I helped mother plant the garden, drove the rake for haying and rode horseback daily. I loved being alongside my father as we roped and chased cattle.”
In the fall, after the cattle buyer came to the ranch to offer a price, the family trailed the sale cattle to the train station at Azure, south of High River. They only sold two-year olds in those days, so the one paycheque had to last a year.
McLean’s father supplemented the income by selling beaver, muskrat and coyote pelts to Simpson & Lee in Calgary.
Lenore’s great-grandfather came over from Scotland in the mid-1800s and worked in the services of the Hudson Bay Co. at York Factory, Manitoba. His stories of adventures in the new land fired up his son with enthusiasm for Canada. In March of 1889 he sailed for this new land. He came west to Calgary by train and on to Edmonton by ox cart. There he found employment in Norris and Carey’s Trading Post. He loved to be on the land and hunted and prospected. He once owned the parcel of land which is now where the Edmonton parliament buildings are situated.
He sold the land and bought cattle trailing them west to Okotoks where he had a homestead. A ranch became available west of Longview near Sullivan Creek in 1909, after the Irish born homesteader was dragged to death by a horse, and James Garson Bews bought it. There, he and wife, Agnes raised two sons and a daughter.
In 1936, James died and Agnes passed away six years later. After the death of both parents, the estate was divided between the brothers with Johnny taking over the farm and Joe (Lenore’s father) taking over the ranch.
At that time, the ranch included about 12 sections of land, enough to run 250 cows and put up winter feed. The family ran Herefords because they were known for being able to maintain themselves in harsh conditions.
By the time McLean was six, it was time to go to school. Both her parents believed that a girl should be educated.
“I was sent to a boys and girls boarding school In Pincher Creek. It was quite a culture shock,”
says McLean. “It was a French convent and we had to learn to speak French.”
“To fetch me home for Christmas, my dad drove the horse-drawn cutter to Longview where he stayed overnight then caught the train to Pincher Creek the next morning. It was in 1947, and the winter winds blew steady in the area and the snow drifts were piled high. The train was held up because of the snow on the tracks.”
The following year, McLean was transferred to the Sacred Heart Convent in Calgary. The schedule was strict with study time, meals, dancing and schooling along with some sports including tennis. she says she was homesick but not for her family. She missed the horses and the cattle.
She remembers shimmying down the drainpipe of the school just so she could smell the horse that pulled the milk wagon through the city.
“I went home to help on the ranch every summer, and finished my formal education at 17 years old and got a job at Kenway’s Western Wear in Calgary. I was learning Latin so I could go into nursing. At that time, you had to have a second language,” explains McLean.
“But things didn’t go as planned. I rode in a parade in High River where I was voted as the best dressed cowgirl. The best dressed cowboy was a fellow by the name of Roy McLean.”
“Up until then, boys held little interest, but this good looking boy was crazy about ranching and horses and we had a lot in common.”
After a three-year courtship, the couple married and moved to the Stimson Creek Ranch owned by the McLean family which was just south and east of Longview, and not far from home.
The Stimson Ranch included a farm, a variety of livestock and a dairy outside of High River.
There were still cattle chores to keep McLean on horseback, but there were also meals for the threshing crew and grain to haul when the men were busy. Eventually, the dairy was sold once the sponsorship for Dutch workers stopped.
Where once horses were relied upon to pull the drill in this hilly country, they were replaced by caterpillars and then John Deere tractors.
“Roy’s dad passed away in 1967, at the early age of 51, leaving Roy, the oldest boy of four children, to shoulder much of the responsibilities. Back then you had to pay a large succession duty to the government when someone died and the estate could not be settled until all the children reached the age of 21,” McLean tells us. “
“Roy’s brother was only nine years old at the time, so it was several years later before the estate was straightened out.”
Today, Roy and Lenore ranch with Roy’s bother Donald and the family has had to be quite industrious to hold on during the drought of the 80s and of course, BSE.
“We opened a guest ranch in response to the drought to bring in some extra money,” says McLean.
“We raised three boys Mike, Tim and Joe. Tim pretty much ran the guest ranch. He’s not only handy at building things, but he’s a good horseman and drove the teams we used to tour out-of-country guests. His younger brother Joe was the wrangler as some of the guests preferred to ride.”
When BSE hit the industry Roy knew he couldn’t guarantee the cattle prices and since the land was paid for, they didn’t want to borrow money to keep afloat.
Mike, the eldest, who had taken television, stage art and radio while still helping out on the ranch, left broadcasting and became the acting site manager of the Bar U national historical site seven kilometres west of the ranch.
Joe went to work in the agriculture department for the Municipal District of the Foothills, while Tim entered a culinary career and started a catering company called the Rusty Spur. The land was rented out.
All the McLean boys and their families, which include nine grandchildren, live on the ranch nearby their parents.
Back in 2005, Roy took a nasty fall off a green horse while loading a cow in a chute and has since been unable to ride.
Both Roy and Lenore have been recognized for their years of service to their community and to the cattle industry. They were both heavily involved in the 4-H program and Roy sat on a lot of boards including one for Heritage Park, the Alberta Cattle Commission, United Grain Growers, the Bar U board and he was elected to the Municipal District of Foothills No. 31 as a councillor for 21 years and nine years the reeve.
In 1993, Lenore received the Commemorative Medal for outstanding contribution to her community and Canada marking the 125th anniversary for Confederation. In 2001, she was one of the women in the Alberta Cattle Commission’s Ranchers promotion. In 2002, Lenore played herself in a video called “Pretty ladies and fast horses” which shone the spotlight on the Cowgirls of the 21st century. In 2005, Lenore and Roy received the Calgary Stampede Legacy Award for western heritage values. The following year, the Medicine Tree Ranch rodeo recognized Lenore for her contributions as a ranching legend.
In 2012, the Historical Society of Alberta cheered her outstanding contribution for Alberta history and in 2013, she was recognized for her contribution for inspiring character and cowgirl spirit at a luncheon remembering the late Florence LaDue, a the world champion ladies fancy roper.
The connection with LaDue
Florence LaDue was her performing name, while her given name was Grace Maud Bensel. Grace lost her mother in childbirth and her father, who was a criminal lawyer who later became a judge, sent his
young daughter away to live with her grandparents who worked
on a Sioux reservation in Minnesota.There she learned to ride bareback, swimming in the creeks, and learning the ways of the Sioux. Fearing she had become too much of a tomboy, her father took her back home when she was 12.By the age of 17, Grace was unhappy and ran away to be a trick roper for the Wild West Show. As Florence LaDue, she eventually won the world champion ladies fancy roping in 1912 and retired undefeated in the 1920s.(The previous information was taken from a historical novel, “The First Stampede of Florence LaDue”, written by Wendy Bryden in collaboration with Lenore McLean published in 2012 to commemorate the Calgary Stampede’s centennial).After retiring from competition, LaDue and her husband Guy Weadick moved to Canada from the U.S. and settled in Alberta opening the first guest ranch in the country. That guest ranch happened to be located near the Bews ranch.”We had a really close bond,” says McLean.”She told me to look my best, do my best and be my best, and I never forgot that, and it is something I live by to this day.”
Guy Weadick and his wife (Grace) or Florence LaDue were the founders of the Calgary Stampede.Florence died when Lenore was 12 and had no living relatives. Florence left her beloved world champion saddle to Lenore which she continues to use while riding in parades and horse shows. She also has some of the LaDue breeding in her horses.At 74, Lenore Bews McLean still rides daily. The family keeps about 30 geldings and mares and a stud to raise a few colts. She says she stays away from the more bronchy horses but can still ride western, English and side saddle.”You know when I met Roy, I wasn’t interested in men, I was more interested in steering my life.”
“But in the end, I believe I got the best of both worlds. I wanted a good horse and a good man and I got both.”