Photograph provided courtesy of Historic O’Keefe Ranch, Vernon. B.C.
Cornelius O’Keefe (1838-1919) was born in Fallowfield, Upper Canada, son of Michael O’Keefe of Kilworth, County Cork, Ireland and Esther Demers. He arrived in British Columbia in 1862 along with thousands of other young men attracted to the colony by the lure of gold in the Cariboo region. Like so many of them, he was unable to locate on rich ground and was obliged to make a living packing and freighting supplies to Barkerville, the heart of the Cariboo gold rush.
He worked for a time on the construction of the Cariboo wagon road between Clinton and Bridge Creek and also assisted former Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Factor, Archibald McKinley, in the construction of the 115 Mile stopping house at Lac La Hache. Once the stopping house was completed, O’Keefe traveled with McKinley to Oregon City to pack and move all his worldly possessions to the family’s new home.
In the spring of 1867, he and a partner traveled to Oregon and purchased a herd of cattle, which they drove north through the Okanagan Valley. Seeing the rich bunch grass ranges and excellent water at the north end of the lake, they each took up 160 acres of rich bottom land in June of 1867, some two weeks before Canadian confederation.
In 1872, after British Columbia joined confederation, Cornelius O’Keefe became the Post Master of the “Okanagon” Post Office, the first in the Okanagan Valley. The post office was located in O’Keefe’s general store, at the end of the wagon road into the Okanagan and the terminus of the BC Express Stage Lines route. The ranch also became the site of St. Ann’s Catholic church, now the oldest church in the Okanagan.
Over the next 30 years, O’Keefe amassed approximately 12,000 acres of land and was engaged in a variety of business ventures. Aside from his cattle and sheep ventures and his general store, he operated a grist mill and grew wheat and apples in the fertile Okanagan Valley.
He was involved in a variety of community organizations as a director of the BC Cattlemen’s Association and of the Okanagan and Spallumcheen Agricultural Society, president of the Vernon Jockey Club, and a member of the Vernon Conservative Association.
Having previously subdivided and sold about 3,000 acres, he disposed of most of his remaining holdings in 1907 to the Land and Agricultural Company of Canada. This enabled him to continue ranching on a small scale, construct theatres in Vernon and Kamloops, and relax in his lovely Queen Anne style home. This beautiful house, along with a number of ranch buildings is preserved as a heritage site.