History

The St. Ann Ranch Trading Co. was founded in 1905 by a group of aristocratic French cavalrymen — Armand Trochu, Joseph Devilder, and Leon Eckenfelder. They were drawn to the sheltered coulee by the promise of “bubbling springs that never went dry in the summer and did not freeze in the winter.” They were not disappointed. Trochu’s enthusiastic reports soon attracted other French settlers, including Ernest Frere (great-grandfather of the present owner) who arrived in 1910. Eventually the pioneer town of Trochu was born.

The French cavalrymen, including Armand Trochu at far left.

The Frenchmen brought the first garden, grain and flower seeds to the area; built all of the first buildings, including a Stopping Place, the first Post Office, school, hospital, Catholic church, and stores; and raised purebred horses and cattle. The large Ranch house was built by Joseph Devilder. In 1911, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway surveyed a line to the east of this townsite, and like so many other Alberta communities, the town of Trochu was moved to suit the railroad.

The outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 changed the community forever. Many of the former cavalrymen returned to France to rejoin the army, and by 1918 many had died. Only 5 returned to Trochu: Leon Eckenfelder, Edgar Papillard, 2 de Beaudraps, and Ernest Frere.

The Ernest and Marthe Frere family in 1933.

In 1931, Marthe and Ernest Frere bought the St. Ann Ranch site from Edgar Papillard and operated it as a farm. They raised their nine children here. In 1971, the Ranch was sold to their first grandchild, Louis Frere, and his wife Lorene, who in turn raised six children of their own. It was Lorene who discovered the rich heritage of the Ranch and began extensive research after her last child left the nest in 1987.

Louis and Lorene Frere at the Saint Ann Ranch in 2011.

With the support of Louis and help from their youngest son, Lewis, Lorene began the process of renovating the buildings and launching the Bed and Breakfast. In 1996, Louis and Lorene’s second-eldest son, Tom, and his wife Holly, took over ownership and management of the Ranch, and continue to operate it to this day.

The St. Ann Ranch was declared a Provincial Historic Site in 1989. Along with the 30-room Devilder mansion, the site features a Heritage Village with several musuems including a Blacksmith Shop, Post Office, Hospital, School, Chapel and Interpretive Centre with over 600 historic photographs. Social gatherings continue to be held, as they have been for 100 years, in the Stopping Place.

Come share a piece of history with us and make memories that will last a lifetime!

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