I wrote Cattle Ranch: The Story of the Douglas Lake Cattle Company during the 1970s when the ranch was my home and my name was Nina G. Woolliams.
Here’s how it came about that a Welsh immigrant wrote a history about Canada’s largest cattle ranch.
At the end of the 1960s, I had moved from South Wales in the British Isles to Canada to work as a physiotherapist. A year later, I moved to Douglas Lake as the wife of Neil Woolliams, manager of the ranch.
Growing up in Wales, my least favourite school subject had been history. But once I lived in Canada, the contrast between the City of Cardiff and the company collection of houses that comprised Douglas Lake with its outlying farming communities, camps, and cookhouses was so great that I became interested in the tangible history of my new domicile. I began researching its history at the Kamloops Archives and the British Columbia Archives in Victoria. I interviewed people who lived on the ranch and on the neighbouring First Nations reserve. I interviewed the previous ranch manager, Brian K. de P. Chance extensively. Soon I was planning to write a book about the history I was gradually revealing.
Chunky Woodward was the owner of the ranch at the time and he would spend many weekends at the ranch, hunting, fishing, and relaxing. When he advised us that he was very interested in asking a friend of his, a previously published author, to write the ranch’s history, I told him that I had already been researching the ranch’s history for some years and had been able to compile quite an important collection of original documents, something I had been reluctant to share with anyone earlier, because of my recent immigration.
Chunky supported me wholeheartedly from that day forward.
Even as I continued to research the ranch’s history—a task that took me about seven years—I began searching for a publisher. After I received a number of rejections from national Canadian publishers, I approached what-was-then J.J. Douglas Ltd., the North Vancouver publishing company started by Jim Douglas. Jim expressed interest and came to visit us at the ranch. I was feeling nervous about this meeting as we anticipated the great Vancouver publisher’s arrival. But, as misfortune or fortune had it, a grass fire broke out in our very large yard just as he pulled up to our fence and I can testify that there’s nothing like putting out a grass fire to break the ice!
The rest is history, as they say, and Cattle Ranch was published by Douglas & McIntyre in December 1979, just days prior to our family’s emigration to Australia, where we had bought a sheep and cattle property. While I started a new life Down Under in the middle of a drought, my first book became a British Columbia best seller and a finalist in Eaton’s 6th Annual BC Book Award.