Alan Daniels, The Vancouver Sun, March 28, 2002
One of British Columbia's most spectacular privately-owned properties, the 1,000-acre Firlands Ranch, overlooking the Columbia Valley Wetlands near Radium Hot Springs, goes on the auction block Friday.
The main residence is a 4,000 square feet, five-bedroom log house built three years ago at a cost of more than $1 million. The beauty is in the details: a built-in wine bar made from 100-year-old barn wood; a stairwell featuring hand-stripped pine railings and hand-woven willow spindles taken from trees on the property; a hearth made from 100-year-old brick salvaged from the original ranch house; century-old cabinetry with handles and draw-pulls made from antlers shed on the property by elk and white-tail deer.
Other features include a manager's house, a cookhouse, swimming pool, sauna, volleyball court, blacksmith shop and a 150-year-old barn "still in good condition."
With a backdrop of the spectacular Purcell Mountains, the property is 15 minutes from Radium Hot Springs and 20 minutes from the ski slopes at Panorama. A promotional brochure says the ranch was first deeded in the early 19th century as 6,000 acres.
"Firlands Ranch is as rich in history as it is in scenic wonders, having been visited by diplomats, heads of state, heads of the military and members of the Royal Family inner circle," the brochure states.
It was the site of a gruesome double murder in 1940, according to newspaper reports at the time. British Columbia MLA Harold Forster, a well known mountaineer who built a home on the property in 1891 on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River, was apparently shot to death by an intruder. Also killed was prospector John Lundy, a house guest. A local man, Frank Sylvestre, was found guilty of murdering Lundy and sentenced to be hanged. After the killings the house was set ablaze and although there was not enough left of Forster's body to make a positive identification, a watch, keys and articles found near the body, satisfied the coroner.
Strangely, a 1967 historical account, headlined "Forster of the Kootenays," published in the Daily Colonist makes no mention of murder. Forster's wife, the former Medora Hume, daughter of his manager, had been with her children who were at school in Penticton, when tragedy struck that night in 1940. "Our home, Firlands, with our treasures, burned to the ground," she is quoted as saying. "My husband and his house guest, John Lundy, lost their lives in the fire."
In 1945, Firlands was bought by T.W. Appelby, a registered big-game guide, who planned to develop it into a dude ranch. In 1954, it was purchased by Stanley and Phyllis Gibb and became known as the Gibb Ranch. In 1989, it was sold again, this time to Gene Garbowski, and was renamed the Double G Ranch.
Today, as then, the property abounds with wildlife. According to information supplied to potential bidders, Firlands Ranch is used by prey animals as a protected migratory corridor between the Purcell Mountains and the Columbia Wetlands.
"In the summer, they migrate through the property and make their way up the mountains. During the fall they migrate down the mountain and through the property to rut in the lowlands and the wetlands."
The brochure notes that the Wetlands is "prime hunting ground for elk, whitetails, mule deer and moose. Several dozen wild turkeys make their home around the homestead and hillside. Predators include wolves, coyotes, black bears, cougar and various raptors, including the bald eagle."
It's a hunter's paradise," said Sam Pollock, vice-president of Alabama-based marketing company Albert Burney, which is responsible for marketing and promoting the sale. "There's just about every form of wildlife you can imagine."
Sealed bids accompanied by a $25,000 certified cheque will be accepted until 5 p.m. MST on Friday. Listing agent is Judy Gray of Port Mid-Island Realty, in Ucluelet. Closing is within 30 days.
The Calgary family that owns the ranch has not set a reserve price, Pollock said in an interview from Gadsden, Ala., but their expectations "are in the millions of dollars."
"We've been talking to some people, but we don't know what it's worth," Pollock said. "They don't have an appraisal. That's why it's going to auction." He said all bids will be considered but the owners reserve the right of refusal. However, he indicated they are "extremely motivated as evidenced by the marketing costs incurred in promoting the auction." He said the owners are "low profile" and would not consent to be interviewed.
According to the B.C. land registry, the directors of Firlands Ranch Ltd., which is registered at 595 Burrard St., Vancouver, and was incorporated in January, 1999, are Thomas E. Fenn and Margot M. Micallef, both of 72 Mount Cascade Close, S.E. Calgary; and Allison R. Kuchta, of 3890 St. Mary's Avenue, North Vancouver. They did not return phone calls made by The Vancouver Sun.
Vancouver developer Rudy Nielsen, principal of Niho Land & Cattle Co., specialist in recreational property sales, says he was involved in selling the Firlands Ranch when it was called the Double G Ranch, in 1998, but was "scooped" by another company.
He said at that time the property totalled 846 acres involving five land titles and was listed for $1.5 million, marked down from an original asking price of $1.8 million.
He said a $4-million offer in today's market was probably "a little high," but "Ranches are really shooting up in price. People are buying them for recreational use, rather than for return on investment."
He said ranch land is generally valued according to what it can produce in hay to sustain cattle through the winter. On top of that, is the so-called "trophy" value associated with owning a well-known or historic property.
"It comes down to what is a person willing to pay above the market value of what a ranch will support," he said. "We get a lot of interest from weekend cowboys, guys from the West Vancouver dot-coms who want a getaway and don't care if they make any money on in."