174 Tierney O’Keefe and Mary Elizabeth (Betty) O’Keefe
Tierney and Betty O’Keefe
Biography kindly provided by Éileen O’Keefe (daughter of Tierney & Betty O’Keefe)
It was the realization that Canada was going to be 100 years old on July 1, 1967 that gave Betty O’Keefe the inspiration to restore the O’Keefe Ranch as a Centennial project. She woke up her husband Tierney one night and said “Let’s do it, let’s restore the ranch back to what it was.” Tierney thought it was a foolish idea and told her to go back to sleep. But in the morning after discussing the idea they both believed it was possible.
Tierney was the youngest son of Cornelius O‘Keefe, who had settled at the Head of Okanagan Lake and established the O’Keefe Ranch on June 15, 1867. Betty knew that the ranch was brimming with antique treasures. Throughout the ranch’s history, when new furniture and household items were purchased, the old ones were stored in the attic or in one of the ranch sheds.
It had long been the family tradition that you never threw anything out because someday it could come in handy. Even items left over from the original general store and post office, which had been established in 1872, were still stored on the Ranch. Old fashioned kitchen ware, heavy cast iron pots, coloured glass coal oil lamps, antique china jugs and basins, brass beds and numerous other items were carefully stored away. When a large sheep barn had to be torn down, even those boards had been saved.
The O’Keefes had this dream: that the ranch could be restored to its original state and it could become a major tourist attraction. Tierney and Betty scoured the province to look for additional items to stock the general store, blacksmith shop and original home. They went to numerous auction sales and antique stores to buy pieces to augment their own collection.
The original log home and bunkhouse, long since converted to other uses were restored back to their original condition. St Ann’s Church, the oldest surviving Roman Catholic Church in the Okanagan, was still standing on the little rise. In the cemetery behind the little church lay many of the early pioneers of the Okanagan Valley, along with Cornelius, 2 of his wives Mary Ann and Elizabeth and eight of his children.
When they started this project, Tierney was a cattleman, rancher and farmer. Both he and Betty knew precious little about tourism. They approached the provincial government to inquire if they were interested in their helping them with their project and after realizing that no help was available, they were determined to do it themselves.
Betty had many ideas and Tierney was able to implement them. They were a team. Their vision was not to create a museum but rather a hub of living Canadian history, a reconstruction of the early pioneer days of British Columbia, as life had been. They wanted to preserve and share the past so that future generations would always know what life was like in Western Canada at the time of Canadian Confederation. When you walked into the various buildings along the boardwalk, whether it was the original log home, the general store or the blacksmith shop, it appeared as though the owner, store clerk or blacksmith had just stepped out.
All St Ann’s Church needed were some new window panes to replace those that were broken, as the altar, candle sticks, organ, pews, and statues were still there. Betty and Tierney even opened their private residence, the original mansion, built in 1886, to the tourist public.
This Queen Anne home had been elegantly decorated and refurnished by Cornelius’ second wife, Elizabeth in 1900 and had been lovingly cared for over the years. Much of the furniture throughout the home was manufactured in Eastern Canada.
The O’Keefe Ranch was recognized as a British Columbia Historical Site by the Provincial government and was officially opened to the general public on June 15, 1967, by Premier W.A.C. Bennett. This was 100 years to the day from when Cornelius O’Keefe first arrived with his herd of cattle.
Tierney and Betty had achieved what they had started out to do. They had restored the Historic O’Keefe Ranch.
Betty O’Keefe 1924-1989. Her tombstone reads:
THE HISTORIC O’KEEFE RANCH TODAY IS DUE TO HER FORESIGHT AND DETERMINATION TO PRESERVE A PART OF THE HISTORY OF THE OKANAGAN VALLEY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
Tierney O’Keefe 1911-2000. His tombstone reads:
TOGETHER WITH HIS WIFE BETTY, THEY ACHIEVED THEIR DREAM OF THE RANCH RESTORATION. NOW AT REST ON THE LAND HE LOVED
Official British Columbia Government Historical sign commemorating the O’Keefe Ranch at Vernon B.C.
Local highway sign with directions to the O’Keefe Ranch near Vernon British Columbia