During the latter part of the 19th century, the foothills of what is now southern Alberta were given over largely as grazing leases to several big ranching companies, many of them with close ties to the Conservative Party. With the election of the Liberal party in 1896 however, more emphasis came to be placed on settling the West with small, independent farmers. Under Interior Minister Clifford Sifton therefore, many grazing leases, when expired, were not renewed, in order that the land could be subdivided into quarter-sections for homesteading, or given over to the CPR Land Department.
Among the many homesteaders to flock into the region during the turn of the 20th century were Nellie and Alexander Weir who, in July 1900, filed for SE18 TP18 R3 W5, on the east bank of the Highwood River, some 20 km northwest of High River. This was on land previously occupied by the North-West Ranch Company. The Weirs were from Ontario, and, like many of the new settlers, they combined dryland farming with cattle raising. In May 1905, Alexander Weir received title to his land, and, in February 1906, the High River Times reported that he was erecting a new 26’ x 26’ log home on his ranch.
The Weirs never owned more than one single quarter-section of land, and, with grain prices declining during the early 1900’s, they probably found it difficult to make ends meet. At the time, their property was surrounded by a large ranch owned by George Lane, which consisted of several sections. At any rate, as soon as Weir gained title to his quarter, he mortgaged it to the Fairchild Company of Winnipeg. Two years later, the Fairchild Company became owners of the land, while Weir apparently drifted off to some other form of employment. Shortly thereafter, the western portion of the quarter-section was sold to an Italian immigrant named George Pocaterra, who turned it into a dude ranch called the Buffalo Head Ranch. The eastern portion, which held Weir’s house, was acquired by an English immigrant named Owen Royal, who seems to have had business interests in Calgary. It was Royal who upgraded the house, adding three bedrooms, a kitchen and a porch, while landscaping the yard and planting trees. Royal named it Alequiers, a name derived from the spelling of Alex McQueen Weir.
In 1939, the Alequiers property was acquired by an artist named Ted Schintz. Schintz had migrated to western Canada from Holland in the 1920’s, taking odd jobs and cultivating his skills as a painter. In 1928, he stayed at the Buffalo Head Ranch and developed an affinity for the foothills environment. In 1931, he married Jeanette Kay from England, and the couple stayed for a while at Algequiers before traveling to Europe. While the couple took odd jobs, Ted enrolled in the Academy of Arts in Munich, studying under Angelo Yank. Upon his graduation, the Schintzes returned to western Canada, and, soon, Ted began to sell his paintings at reasonably high prices, mostly to magazines like Country Guide and Cattleman, which were interested in images of the prairie West. Jeanette was also able to sell some of her work. Finally, in 1939, the couple had sufficient means to purchase Alequiers, where they lived until retiring to High River in the 1960’s.
The Alequiers Ranch House was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2005. Its historical significance lies in its provision of structural evidence of the homesteading experience on the southern foothills of Alberta after the break-up of many of the large ranches that had dominated the area. The expanded house of about 1920 is also important as the showpiece home of Owen Royal and, more importantly, the artist Ted Schintz, many of whose works have graced magazine covers with images of the southwestern plains of Canada, and several of which are stored in the Glenbow Museum.
Written by: David Leonard, Historian
Visit the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about the heritage value of the Alequiers Ranch House. In order for a site to be designated a Provincial Historic Resource, it must possess province-wide significance. To properly assess the historic importance of a resource, a historian crafts a context document that situates a resource within its time and place and compares it to similar resources in other parts of the province. This allows staff to determine the importance of a resource to a particular theme, time, and place. Above, is some of the historical information used in the evaluation of the Alequiers Ranch House.