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Guy of the Ghost

Let us never forget the lonely cowboys who quietly lived in cabins by the rivers, yet silently contributed so much to the history of our community without ever knowing it.
Guy Gibson and his horse Joker.
Guy Gibson and his horse Joker.

Let us never forget the lonely cowboys who quietly lived in cabins by the rivers, yet silently contributed so much to the history of our community without ever knowing it. Many people in the Cochrane area knew or heard of Guy Gibson, affectionately called “Guy of the Ghost” by some and even “Lord of the Ghost” by others.

Thanks go out to Dorothy Edge who suggested I write about this well-liked man and also, to Maureen Wills, who knew him well and was able to fill in some of the blanks.

Guy Gibson was born in Gaythorpe, Lincolnshire, England in 1883 and came to Canada with his parents when he was eight years old. It was interesting to note that his mother packed food for the trip and that they were allowed to cook for themselves on the train to save expenses. Her estimated food actually lasted until they arrived in Calgary. Guy’s parents’ homesteaded land north of Calgary in the Simons Valley area, calling their place “The Cup of Tea Ranch.” Guy soon went to work helping neighbours with chores in order to learn to ride and train horses.

As he grew older, he became a wandering cowboy, and was a good roughrider, riding broncs with the best, such as John Ware and Guy Weadick.

Guy served with the 31st Battalion in France during the First World War and was wounded twice. He became an expert at dismantling and assembling the Lewis gun. After the war he settled in the Ghost River area west of Cochrane, working for Ruth Laycock on the old Coleman Ranch.

In 1922 Mrs. Ethel Wynne arrived from Vancouver and bought the Warnock place, which was just east of the Coleman Ranch. Mrs. Wynne then hired Guy to manage her Aberdeen Angus cattle. In 1927 she sold her original place to Pat Render and bought land from the Canadian Pacific Railroad. with the Ghost River flowing through it. This was a beautiful piece of property with a view of Black Rock Mountain and the Devil’s Head. Guy built a log cabin there for Mrs. Wynne and a bunkhouse for himself.

Guy’s next project was to build a cabin for the workers when the wildcat oil well, Baymar No. 1 was spudded in on Sept. 4, 1929. Unfortunately, it proved to be a dry hole, however the cabin lived on and became the first summer cabin in the area.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Wynne registered her quarter as a Junior Town Site in order to subdivide it into lots. She decided to call it “Benchlands” because the land rose steeply from the river flat to a level bench, which followed the contour of the Ghost River. From there it rose higher to the flats above, making three levels in all. So that is how Benchlands got its name!

In 1927 Guy built his cabin with a stone fireplace in the middle, at the bottom of a steep hill on a flat beside the Ghost River. The hinges on his door were made from willow roots that hooked into each other, with the door latch made the same way. It was his own ingenious idea.

He continued building cabins, many of which were first used as summer cabins and later as permanent residences. Guy was known to be a skilled axe man and claimed he had built more than 1,000 cabins in his lifetime. His cabins were sturdy and withstood the test of time, however during the great flood of 2012 Guy’s own cabin disappeared into the Ghost River.

In 1934 Mrs. Wynne sold Benchlands to Guy Gibson so that he could homestead an adjacent quarter.

Guy Gibson was well known for his sense of humor and was quoted by Donald Leslie as being “wild and tough, but one of the gentlest people I’ve ever known.” He loved his horse, Joker and had taught him to do many tricks. Rex, his shepherd-cross dog could understand almost every word of English. Guy’s reputation with his animals travelled as far as Calgary. Quite often young people from the city would visit him. As Maureen Wills puts it, “He was a breath of fresh air”.

He would say to Rex “Go get your dog food, then I’ll give you supper.” Rex would go to the cupboard, bring back a can. Guy would say “Wrong can, these are beans, now go get your dog food.” Rex would then bring back the right can.

Aside from his dog and his horse he always kept a goat. Guy used to say the goat was his refrigerator. Whenever he needed milk he’d call the goat to him.

When Guy became ill in the latter years of his life, Maureen Wills, along with two other ladies would visit him often and help where they could. Finally he was taken to the Colonel Belcher Hospital in Calgary. Guy Gibson passed away in April 1965 at the age of 82. Maureen was at his bedside the night he died.

As everyone was walking out of the old United Church in Cochrane after his funeral, the sky to the West was eerie – all of a sudden there was one extremely loud crack of thunder, one huge bolt of lightning – and no rain. “There goes a real swell ‘GUY.’” (quoted in Big Hill Country)


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