BLOCK BROS 108 RANCH AND GOLF COURSE DEVELOPMENT CELEBRATES 50 YEARS
References include quotes from various sources: newspapers, articles, and interviews
AUTHOUR’S PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS
Very rarely do I have the opportunity to research and to write about a development containing a golf course that I watched being constructed in the 1960’s. Block Bros 108 Ranch and Golf Course is such a rare example. As a youngster, I accompanied my grandfather to Prince George on the Cariboo Highway. On the journey northward from Agassiz, we stopped at his log cabin located on Dempsey Lake. To reach the cabin, we turned off the main road at mile 110. Many summers we fly fished in the lakes at the 108 Ranch particularly, the one below the clubhouse. In the fall, we hunted for grouse in the wooded areas on the hills. On Victoria Day weekend 1969, we arrived in the area to see the old 105 Mile ranch property being transformed into a recreational paradise. The white face Herefords no longer blocked our road to the cabin. For years the white faces controlled the road. The herd would simply stand staring at the vehicle as if to say, “This is our territory. You are trespassing. Also “I will always remember the distinct fragrance from the sagebrush bushes that grew on the hills. The locals had beehives that produced incredible honey.”
In 1968 Block Brothers Realty Corporation presented a rosy picture to the shareholders. The enterprising brothers believed a new market existed. Residents in large cities in the US would purchase recreational lots in the wilderness to escape from the overcrowded cities. The lure of owning a lot on a cattle ranch would be enticing.
In 1968, Block Bothers placed an option to purchase on the 105-mile ranch from RM Monical and Sons of Oregon for $1 million plus the grazing rights for an additional 150 square miles of grazing lands. The brothers planned to maintain the fully operational cattle ranch as part of the lure for city residents to live amongst an operating ranch. The city dwellers would also enjoy playing golf on a championship 18 hole golf course, fishing in the many lakes, hunting in the wooded areas, hiking, skiing and horseback riding on the trails. This venture began a movement to build recreational area throughout North America.
When prospectors discovered gold in Barkerville in 1858, the lure of riches attracted gold seekers from all continents of the globe. Initially, the miners paddled against the current eastward on the Fraser to the entrance of the Harrison River. The Harrison and Adams Lakes enabled the prospectors to reach Lillooet Mile 0 on the journey 270 miles northward to Barkerville. The travelers along the trail designated significant stops with mile markers such as Mile 70, 100 Mile House, and 105 Mile Ranch.
“Benjamin McNeill cleared the area in the 1890’s. In 1909, he built the ranch house from logs faced with bricks, which still stands today. The local legends go that in 1918 C.G. Cowan bought the ranch for a Lord Edgerton, a wealthy Liverpoolidian. Edgerton came out to see his property in the 1930’s at the same time that Lord Martin Cecil arrived from England to run the Bridge Creek cattle ranch for his father Lord Exeter. When Cowan returned to Liverpool, Martin Cecil assumed the management of the 105 Mile Ranch. He renamed it the Highland Ranch. Until 1948, Cecil managed both properties. Then Fred Davis purchased the 105. He operated the cattle operation until 1962 when he sold to R.M. Monical & Sons from Oregon. For six years the Monicals operated the property as a commercial cattle ranch with 3,000 head. In 1966 Fred Davis became a partner wit the Monicals their cattle business. Fred and Len Monical developed the original idea of turning the property into a recreational playground for city dwellers. Then came Block Bros, in October 1968, who reached a tentative agreement to purchase the cattle operation.”
As the excavations of the property proceeded, artifacts, such as branding irons and shoes from the horses and donkeys, from the old gold rush days appeared in the buckets of the heavy shovels. Eight miles of the original Cariboo Trail traversed the property.
In the mid 1960’s real estate firms throughout North America identified a potential new market for country land development projects. The financial statements for the public trading Block Bros Ltd showed a surplus of cash. The brothers, Arthur and Henry, who controlled the company, decided to enter into this new market. They were not the first, but within five years Block Bros was the largest in North America.
After taking an option on the 105 Mile Ranch near 100 Mile House in the central interior of BC, Block Bros on January 4th 1969 announced their intentions to enter this new lucrative real estate market.
“For about $1 million Block Brothers have bought the 42 square mile cattle ranch known as the 105 Mile Ranch near 100 Mile House. This is the 70-year-old 26,000 acre 42 square mile ranch that straddles the Cariboo Highway between 100 Mile and Lac La Hate and for 10 miles on each side known as the Mile 105 Ranch. It is a little hard for the average city dweller accustomed to a 33-foot lot to visualize the 108 Mile 26,000 acres of wide-open space studded with lakes and covered with thousands of jack pine, poplar, and spruce. Overpopulation in this area is still a foreign word. So are noise, pollution, traffic congestion, and other urban challenges. The Cariboo property will be developed for recreation of all kinds. It has 23 lakes for fishing, boating, and swimming in the summer and winter sports such as skating, ice boating, and ice fishing.”
The company’s grand scheme called for the development of the 42 square miles in three phases. Phase 1. 1500 lots selling for $3,000 – $5,000; Phase 2: 1400 lots; Phase 3: 33 – 5 acre lots. “The company will gross $12.5 million from 5,000 lots at an average price of $2,500.” “About $8 million to $10 million will be spent developing the ranch into a recreational estate for from 5,000 to 10,000 people.”
In phase 1 the company planned to convert the ranch from a beef cattle operation to a livestock, logging, tourist, and residential layout. “The residents would live in the midst of all this, the lakes and valleys open to all, the roads circling the hills and building sites confined to the wooded tops of ridges. No sites to encroach on the rangeland or lakefront.”
After five months, Roland Wilde, The Province sports reporter, posted a progress report for the development on July 10th, 1969.
“Since May 1, 1969, the company has constructed a $200,000 championship golf course, a $90,000 clubhouse with a stunning view over the lake and hill, a new paved $500,000 paved airstrip, 19 miles of gravel roads, run lodge pole pine fencing to separate the cattle from the city horsemen, hauled in sand to construct lakeshore beaches, surveyed 5,000 building lots, drilled two water wells to service the first 1500 lots. The development’s success rested squarely on the shoulders of Grant Kyllo. His organizational skills and operational plan enabled the company to complete Henry Block’s promise: We will have lots for sale, a championship golf course, trails, and fencing completed for July 1969.”
Grant Kyllo coordinated all departments to fulfill his boss’s promise.
“He is Grant Kyllo, vice president of Block Bros, in charge of the multimillion-dollar recreational development in the historic Cariboo. Because of this venture, 100 Mile will be put on the map like no other year in their history. He promised a specific schedule for the project with specific goals to be accomplished by July and for five years later.”
Kyllo’s operational methods proved to be interesting. Every achievement he attributed to a person supervising a specific part of the overall plan. By having each supervisor control one of the eight parts of the overall development plan, the company fulfilled Block’s promises for July 1969.
“If Kyllo had claws he hides them. He purrs. He says good things happen when people give themselves a task. We are going to give people a lot of scope for enjoyment, for relaxation, for just plain happiness.”
“Block Bros is the only developer who claims they are reaching 60 per cent of the Vancouver residents who live in apartments and cannot afford a house.” Critics claimed if anyone whose income is less than $8,000 per year could not afford to fly on a weekend to a second home. “We want to sell the lots to those people who have $450 for the down payment and $35 per month for a chance to get out of the four by four hole in the city.”
Not everyone in Vancouver could receive the free flight to the 108. I recall wondering if a group of us could show an interest in buying; then play a free round of golf on the course. The company used a screening process to identify positive buyers through a series of focused questions: What kind of lot do you want?
How much do you want to put down? How much can you pay per month? If you see a lot you like will you purchase it today?
Prospective buyers on flights offered the following reasons for investigating the properties: “I like the peacefulness”. “Anything where you do not live too close to your neighbour is good”. “The north is the place of the future.”. “Before I buy I would like to find a job there. Let’s face it; how many people get three days off that often.” “I would buy as an investment. Doubling of land values every four years is common in the north”.
“What would happen to the area when the property became fully occupied?”
As the project neared the opening date, criticism about the project began to arise. “Block Brothers is selling BC’s historical lands”. Block responded by saying he was encouraging tourism and foreign investment in the province. Promotional advertising in US newspapers caused a negative influence on sales in the Vancouver area. “Own a piece of British Columbia’s Cariboo”
“Ads sponsored by Block Bros in the San Francisco Chronicle headed ‘British Columbia for Sale” created a controversy among the talk shows. “The ads actually encourage land speculators to invest in a whole untamed province the size of Washington, Oregon and California.” Block responded “The ads actually promote tourist attractions which will bring millions of dollars into the economy.”
Promotional Ads: “Now You Can Own A Piece of British Columbia’s Cariboo”
The advertising focused on several advantages to purchasing your recreational property in the historic Cariboo.
“You can own a first choice property at the ‘108’ for only 15% down usually less than $500; pay the balance on low monthly payments. Your purchase entitles you to all the facilities and conveniences of the 26,000 acres of park atmosphere, sandy beaches, and recreation. Sound Investment: You have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor. Fully serviced lots with hydro, fresh water for $300 wet, Instant cottages, PGA golf course Horse riding, Game preserve, year round recreation, natural wonders.
A 5% down payment, less than $500, entitles you to all the privileges of this 26,000-acre operating ranch. Amenities included PGA 18 hole golf course, horse riding, game preserve, hands on viewing of a real operating cattle ranch.”
This was only the first of many conflicts with the ruling provincial government of the day.
After eighteen months elapsed, The Vancouver Sun business reporter on July 26th, 1970 outlined Block Bros success:
“Since the start nearly $5 million has been sunk into the 108 Mile Ranch and Block Bros expects to spend about $20 million when the project is completed in 1972. Block Bros purchased the 105 Mile ranch in Feb 1969 for $1.5 million. In July 1970 Block reported “ $3.4 of the original $5 million investment has already been recovered from sales. The promotional strategy that has stimulated sales is the offer of free transportation to the ranch and back to all prospective buyers. The firm chartered a 40-seat jet from Air Canada at a cost of $130,000 per flight from May 1, to September. The company anticipates all lots will be sold by September 1970. By July 1970 the company reported 670 go the 1500 lots sold.”
THE 108 GOLF COURSE CONSTRUCTION
108 Celebrates 50th Anniversary
“The Instant Golf Course”
“Real Estate and land developers are just beginning to tap the rapidly growing demand for away – from –it –all living space.” The new recreational properties offered the opportunity to be in a tranquil pollution free, and quiet environment. Block Bros were the first in BC to enter the new market. The company invested over $1 million to purchase the 105 Mile Ranch. To attract the city golfer who lived in apartments in Vancouver, Blocks added a championship 18-hole golf course to their overall plans. To further entice the lower mainland golfers to the property, the company constructed a 5,000-foot runway.
“Block Bros discovered very early one of the main drawbacks to their venture was the 265 mile journey from Vancouver to the ranch. To solve this dilemma the company constructed a 5,000 foot paved runway to accommodate a 737 jet.”
The golf course is a credit to Block Bros, Henry and Arthur, Grant Kyllo, John Martens, Keith and Mary Hannah, Don Parker, and John Lindsay. “The golf course is the triumph of the Vancouver landscape architect Phil Tattersfield and Canadian PGA Tour professional Stan Leonard Professional.”
To add credence to the project, Henry Block enticed world famous PGA touring professional Stan Leonard to assist Philip Tatterersfield in the design of the course. In May, Stan surveyed the property in a snow mobile. In the design for the championship golf course, Tattersfield described the instant creation as: “ You can say God made the course. It will cost only about $200,000. The average green is about 10,000 square feet.
“Kyllo had 75 men working 20 hour days, and he had to import carpenters from Vancouver. The bulldozers were tearing roads out of the bush in readiness for homes; graders shaped the greens with gravel in preparation for the turf that could arrive from any turf farm in western Canada.
Tattersfield commented on the creation as one designed according to the landscape provided by nature.
“You can say God made this course. It will cost only about $200,000. The average green is 10,000 square feet and we’ll lay them starting on June 1. There are no rocks on the fairways and the undulations were there before we arrived. We had all the materials on hand to construct the course. This is the way they used to make golf courses in Scotland. To create this instant course, the bulldozers followed the basic terrain of the rolling Cariboo landscape. After shaping the greens, we used the materials available to ready the surface for the sod. Flatbed trucks traveled throughout the west to move the turf to the course. The 6476-yard layout had twelve doglegged holes, three over water hazards.”
Keith and Mary Hannah first assisted in the development of the Hope G& CC. In 1969 the couple moved further along the Cariboo highway to assume the pro/manager position of the new 108 Mile Ranch golf course. “When we first arrived I don’t think there were half dozen people around here who played golf. Now three years later, I have difficulty keeping up with the demand for golf clubs. .
Hannah described the challenges to growing grass at 3100 feet.
“For one thing we get frost every month of the year even in the heat of the summer. And because there’s alkali in the water here we’ve got to keep applying sulphur to neutralize the soil.”
In 1969,on opening day even though some of the par four holes appeared short on the card like #5 298 yards and 10 at 333 yards, each required an extremely accurate tee shot to produce a par. The course finished as it started with two demanding holes. The 17th had a long blind second shot to a green 409 yard from the tee. The 18th fairway titled sideways for over 300 yards leveling as it climbed to the two-tiered green.
Wilde visited the course prior to the official opening in September 1969. He reported favourably about the layout: “Its a great course. There are no two holes alike. This is ‘the perfumed golf course’. In the soft air the scent of pine and sagebrush is everywhere. A golfer keeps his eyes on the ball but is still aware of the beauty of the greens overlooking a placid lake, short holes with perils from clumps of scrub poplars. It is a course fashioned by Nature herself, around lakes of the glorious Cariboo country. The turf of the fairways now being over seeded has been trodden by the hooves of the thousands of beef cattle through the years. Man has built only one fairway. The fairways are strictly imports. Trucked in 5,000 square feet of sod per load.”
The Cariboo Open
“The original Cariboo Open that alternated between Williams Lake and Quesnel existed between 1934 – 1966. After a lapse of 6six years Block Bros rejuvenated the tournament at 108 in 1972. To promote their development, Block Bros expanded the event into a Pro-Am three-day outing. To attract the top professionals in Canada, Blocks offered $5,000 to $9,000 in prize money the second largest purse in BC next to the BC Open.
In 1973, Bob Panasiuk, the reigning CPGA champion played. He shot a new course record 67 in the Pro-Am. In the final tournament round he stood 7 shots back of Tom Moryson on the 10th tee. At the conclusion of play Bill Hobbis (amateur), Moryson, and Panasiuk tied. Panasiuk won with a par on the first playoff hole.
After the tournament, Panasiuk commented on the course: “Without hesitation I have never experienced such a picturesque course anywhere in Canada. I am amazed that something so much out of a dream world could be enjoyed by such a small percentage of people; it is such real achievement to be able to live in a place like the 108 and be able to work also, to not have to wait until retirement to enjoy life’s finer things. On the course, I feel it is perfect for the businessman. The course is designed so that it will be a challenge but not impossible for it will frustrate the majority of players.”
Reigning Canadian Amateur champion, Doug Roxburgh won the 1974 Cariboo Open. Recently, he provided his recollections of the event. “I remember the course well. It’s changed over the years as they have let some of the back tees grow in and shortened the 10th hole from a par 4 to a par 3. The clubhouse 1st, 10th tees and the 9th and 18th greens were set high up on the property overlooking the golf course and lake – a beautiful setting. The 18th was a relatively short par 5 but straight uphill. In the designs tan put in a level area on the left side of the fairway that became known as “Leonard Pad” as it provided the only level shot on the hole. I set the course record of 65 (missed a 4 foot putt on the 18th). The record stood for a long time. The scorecard used to be on display in the clubhouse but the clubhouse burned down about 7 -8 years ago. The caribou Open had the 2nd largest purse in BC and attracted a strong field of pros. H&R Block wanted to showcase the course to sell lots in their development. It was a two-day event and after the first day they had a Calcutta party where players were put up for auction with only the final day’s score counting for the results. There was a lot of money flowing around in those days and some players were bought for as much as $1500. The overall pot could reach $20,000. The cook bought me. I had the 3rd lowest score for the day and won back his investment and then some. He bought me lunch! I won a beautiful fiberglass canoe that my brother and I used for many years.”
Doug’s course record stood until 1995 when Larry Ramstad shot 64 in the opening round.
Dave Barr won the 1975 Cariboo open. After the round CPGA champion Bob Cox commented on the quality of the course. “It’s a great course. It needs a bit of grading but overall it is one of best courses I have played. I think most of the golfers thought the fairways needed to be flattened out a bit, but the greens are good, and the tees are really clean.”
RECREATIONAL PROJECT FLOPS
Block Bros pulls the plug.
On November 30, 1977 the Vancouver Sun reported Block Bros planned to “pull the plug” on the 108 project.
“After losing money for eight years Block Bros has abandoned its ambitious plans to develop 42 square miles 26, 000 acres in the Cariboo.” It failed because: “Block Bros misjudged the market potential of a second home recreational area. Instead the project has become a permanent home of about 1,000 people with a few hundred weekenders. “
The BC Government insisted on unrealistic land use control procedures.
“The company plans to sell off more than 18,000 acres in large parcels for an estimated $6 million. This would produce a nominal return on the company original investment. Retained will be lots already sold and enough land to ensure there will be about three acres of undeveloped land for each lot sold. The firm keeps its 5,000-foot runway, 62-room resort lodge, 18-hole golf course, tennis courts and other resort facilities. The company will provide access for current property owners to lakes ski and riding trails on the whole 26,000 acres through a covenant on he title before putting the remaining land on the market. About 60 per cent of the buyers were from the lower mainland, about 10 per cent from Alberta, and less than 2 per cent from the US.
Henry Block outlined the contribution to BC: “The 108 has made a significant contribution to BC as a tourist resort and as a community in which to bring up a family in a somewhat different atmosphere from the usual high-density subdivision.”
Blocks expected buyers would like to buy a property and only go and enjoy one place in their recreational interests instead of going to one place one year and another place the next year and so forth.’
“Back in 1969 the company knew full well that 108 was 275 miles from Vancouver and the distance would be a problem. Block adopted a plan from the outset to Barr waterfront development and required that only one in five acres could be developed. The rest would remain open space. Development would only occur in the treed areas.”
1969 Phase one accepted under the WAC Bennett government. 1973 Block Bros applied to the NDP government for a permit to proceed with phase two. The NDP granted permission to proceed arguing, “Phase two did not come under the terms of reference of the agricultural land freeze of December 31, 1972.
“We decided in 1976 to have a phase 3 start. The third phase called for 33 five-acre plots in accordance with the LUC. “ On June 15th, 1977 Alex Fraser Ministry of Highways and MLA for the area wrote: “The agricultural land reserve takes precedence and still applies. If Block wished to proceed the company must appeal to the Agricultural Land Commission.
Block felt that the company was being placed in front of a political body. “We have no alternative but to alter out total plans and withdraw from the ongoing development of the 108.”
“There is no vehicle other than the land commission. Although we have a land use contract the law says that the government has the right to place different usage than may have been agreed upon at a previous time in the interest of the public.
The BC Golf Museum would like to interview someone who purchased a lot while Block Bros owned the project.