The Brewster Family – real life mountain pioneers and cowboys in the Canadian Rockies - real life mountain pioneers and cowboys in the Canadian Rockies - has been taking care of visitors to the Canadian Rockies for over 100 years.
A long and colorful history of Brewster descendants have all made their mark-in-time on a variety of family businesses. Here is a brief summary of those family members involved in the outfitting portion of Brewster history.
When It All Began
John Brewster was born in Kingston, Ontario to William and Sara Jane (Irvine) Brewster, who had immigrated from Ireland just prior to the great potato famine. Young John felt the lure of the west after his brothers had explored much of the area. In 1886, John followed the Canadian Pacific Railroad to Banff, Alberta, deciding this would become his home. His wife, Isabella, and four sons arrived on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1888, a rather auspicious occasion for an Irish family to begin a new life. Two more sons and one daughter would be born in Banff, completing the original family.
John soon identified a need for a dairy to service not only the growing community, but the CPR Hotel as well. During the winter months the dairy was not as busy and the need to keep the dairy herd outside of the National Park became necessary. In the late 1800’s John established his homestead at the base of Yamnuska Mountain, which is today the Kananaskis Ranch.
Bill and Jim Brewster His eldest son William (Bill), and brother Jim, being illustrious young men, were not content to deliver milk. So with the help of William Twin, a personal Indian friend of the family, the boys became expert mountain men, skilled at camping, hunting and exploring the mountain terrain. At the early ages of 12 and 10 years, the boys took their first guests on a Pack Trip, a result of a request of the Manager from the Banff Springs Hotel. This was the beginning of a business venture in outfitting. Today, Brewster Mountain Pack Trains Ltd. continues to be a successful outfitting operation managed by the family in Banff National Park and in the Kananaskis. For those unfamiliar with the term, a ‘pack trains’ is a group of horses with packed loads on their backs. The packs are secured with the ‘diamond hitch’ and can weigh up to 200 pounds depending on the size of the horse. Over the many generations in the mountains, numerous guests have visited remote places barely accessible without the aid of pack horses and outfitter guides.
The two brothers married two sisters, Bill to Sylvia (Tead) Bagley and Jim to Tess (Lade) Bagley. Bill and Tead had one daughter, Sydney and two sons, Claude and Jack. Jim and Lade had one daughter, Fern. Their families grew and so did their respective businesses.
A request came for Bill from the Great Northern Railroad to help establish an outfitting operation in conjunction with the new East Glacier Hotel being built in Glacier Park, Montana (circa 1912). He took up the challenge, moving his family and leaving his brother Jim in charge of all their shared Banff endeavors. In Montana, Bill developed the Park Saddle Horse Company, numbering some 600 head of horses, as well as establishing the Two Medicine Guest Ranch, a new venture.
The family was to return to Banff when Bill was recalled home to become General Manager of Brewster Transport in 1920. By now the family enjoyed guest ranching and moved to the ranch homestead at Kananaskis where Sylvia (or Missy as she was called fondly by family and friends) was to build the Main Lodge in 1922. Ready for guests in 1923, many visitors from the midwestern United States followed Bill and Missy to Alberta to continue to enjoy their flavor for adventure and western hospitality. Missy and her son, Claude (third generation), managed the ranch and backcountry operations through the difficult 30’s and 40’s. When Claude married his Montana childhood sweetheart, Ruth, along with their two sons, Jack and Bud, the ranch flourished under their direction until the late 50’s. It was then that Claude and Ruth decided to retire from the ranch and outfitting way of life.
Thus in the early 1960’s it was the responsibility of the fourth generation to continue the guest ranch and outfitting tradition. Bud and his wife Annette, with their three daughters, Janet, Corinne and Alison, slowly began the modernization of the Kananaskis Ranch, all the while continuing to operate Brewster Mountain Pack Trains, the families outfitting company and Brewster Lake Louise Stables.
The Brewster Boys
Brewster Mountain Pack Trains, now the oldest outfitting company in Alberta, continues to operate overnight trips taking guests into the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies. Two and four day trips are offered but unlike years past the guests now stay in rustic log cabins complete with sleeping bags and fresh linens. Guests travel on the Historic Horse Drive Trail used by Brewster Horses since the early 1900’s. Meadow Creek, or the Brewster Family Company Ranch is the winter grazing grounds for Brewster horses were the horses graze on nearly 2000 acres to be gathered in the spring to return to the Guest Ranch or the National Park for the summer. Over the years, the family has owned as many as 600 head of horses, but today runs about 150 head.
In 1994 the Brewster Lake Louise Cowboy’s Barbecue and Dance Barn opened, dedicated to Brewster Cowboys for the past 100 years. Catering to corporate, private and incentive groups, this facility hosts groups of 250 people for western Barbecues with famous ‘hip’ of beef dinners and live entertainment from Gunfighter Stunt shows to live western bands. The interior of the Dance Barn tells a tale of real life mountain pioneers and cowboys in the Canadian Rockies, giving this venue a truly unique western Canadian flare.
The historic Stables in Lake Louise continues to operate, winter and summer and offers some of the most spectacular Horse Back Riding in Banff Park. For 100 years visitors have ridden to the famed mountain tea houses or Paradise Valley aboard Brewster Caucus (Caucus is a nickname for a sturdy horse of no particular breeding). The winter sleigh Rides accommodate groups up to 100 on traditionally styled horse drawn sleighs to the end of Lake Louise, December to April. The tradition of approximately 30 years was expanded during the winter Olympics of 1988 to the Stables present capacity of five - 15 passenger sleighs and one two seater cutter.
Brewster Mountain Pack Trains has also outfitted for the Skyline Hikers of the Canadian Rockies for over 70 years and for the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies for approximately 45 years. These are old associations that were formed for the enjoyment of groups of people wanting to explore areas of the Park during the months of July and August. Full camp services are provided for all guests including entertainment tents, a dining tent and tepee’s or wall tents for sleeping. Each day is spent exploring the back country, a special lake or mountain pass, returning to the base camp each night.
In 1996 Brewster’s Mountain Lodge opened in downtown Banff. The seventy seven room Lodge is designed and decorated in the traditional ‘Brewster Lodge’ style reflecting the family’s mountain and outfitting history. Busts of Stoney Indians, including one of Joshua Twin, can be seen on the exterior of the Lodge while all the rooms display old Brewster family photos. In 2002 an 18 hole Golf Course was built by Bud on lands the family has held at the Guest Ranch since the late 1800’s.
The Brewster Family businesses have grown to include numerous ventures in the capable hands of the fifth generation. With the arrival of Lacey Brewster Stanton in 1988 and Bailee Brewster Stanton in 1991, to Janet Brewster and Kevin Stanton, the Family proudly welcomes the sixth generation, 100 years after the arrival of the Brewsters to the Canadian Rockies.
As we enter into the second century of Brewster Tradition, we look toward the future. Many plans are in progress, all for the benefit of our guests to the Canadian Rockies.
Read a letter describing the Kananaskis Guest Ranch written by "Missy" Brewster in 1936.