Paddy Cripps

Pioneer Lady Rancher

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This tranquil photograph was taken at her
sister Ruth’s home in Vancouver shortly
before Paddy married Pasker Pack Harris
Photo courtesy of P. Wynn Johnson
collection/Liz Twan

Frances Patricia (Paddy) Wynn Johnson was born in Dublin, Ireland on March 28, 1907 to an Irish mother, Mary Mabel (Twigg) Wynn Johnson and Charles E. Wynn Johnson, an Englishman. Mary was on a visit home to Ireland when Paddy was born. They returned home to Canada when Paddy was six months old. Paddy recalled that her mother ‘was a little slip of an Irish girl, with golden hair, very blue eyes and a great sense of humour, quick wit and a love of arguing that seems to have been inherited up to a third generation’.

Paddy spent her formative years growing up on Alkali Lake Ranch, living the life of a country child and spending every spare moment horse back. She had a little white shaggy pony called Snowball that she would ride at every opportunity, often alone—which was forbidden, but her love of riding was so great that she could not resist. Later when she was allowed to ride alone she had to seek help to saddle up. One day she had to resort to asking Sing, the Chinese cook. He was no horseman, but came to help anyway. She recalled, “Neither of us knew how to cinch up, I can’t remember exactly what we did, just tied everything around somehow. All I know is that I’d hardly got up before I was sitting on the ground. I was always being told that you had to fall off a hundred times before you could ride so it was not long before I began counting.” The cowboy crew helped whenever they were around.

When she was of school age, a governess (Miss Van) and her mother (who read endlessly to the children) tutored her at home for the first years. As a teen, she was sent to school in Vernon — which did not please her in the slightest. She hated to miss any aspect of ranch life. One time she wrote, ‘I am to go back to Vernon to school tomorrow and I am not at all happy because tomorrow is also weaning day’. It was very clear where her heart lay.

In her late teens Paddy’s mother was stricken with diabetes. Paddy promptly quit school and came home to care for her mother, never more to return.

She was back where she truly wanted to be, in spite of the grim circumstances. She joined wholeheartedly into ranching, preferring to be outside working with the men. She was years ahead of her time when it came to not necessarily accepting the fact that she was a woman and therefore should only do ‘woman’s work’. She felt that she was up to any task on her father’s ranch.

Paddy broke the norm in many fashions. Not only did she ride the range with the men, but she fished and hunted alongside them as well. She didn’t do it half-heartedly either. She was an avid hunter and fisher-woman.

She married in 1929 to Pack (Pasker Baptiste) Harris, at her sister Ruth Woodward’s Vancouver home. They came back to Alkali where they continued ranching with her husband and father at Alkali Lake Ranch. Son Jim was born in 1930, daughter Cherie in 1936. Paddy had the good fortune to have a nanny and was able to continue her cowgirl life. In 1939 or so her life changed dramatically as her beloved Alkali Lake Ranch had to be sold.

Paddy and Pack then purchased the Big Lake Ranch. It was not only a cattle operation but was also home to the Big Lake general store, post office, fuel station and a major stopping place along the highway.

The ranch brand was a Lazy Bar M and the same brand is still registered to Paddy’s youngest son, Clint. Paddy ranched at Big Lake and worked part-time at the local stockyards.

Not long after they moved to Big Lake, Pack passed away.

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A very young Paddy on her first pony, Snowball
Photo courtesy of P. Wynn Johnson collection/Liz Twan

Paddy remarried in November 1941 to Harold Cripps. Daughter, Julie was born in 1942, son Wade in 1945, then son Clint in 1947. The Cripps sold the Big Lake Ranch around 1956. Paddy’s daughter Cherie and her husband Frank Overton purchased the lower ranch, Jim Wannop purchased the rest. For a year the Cripps lived near Williams Lake in the Glendale area in a large home on a large acreage.

They bought the former Fishback Ranch in Prince George on the Upper Mud River (Chilako), a holding of about 1800 deeded acres plus Crown leases. Paddy rechristened it the Chilako Ranch.

Paddy promptly got involved in life in Prince George. She joined the Prince George Cattleman’s Association where she held various positions; she was also a CRD Director and founded the Rancher’s Community 4-H Club. Son Jim Harris ranched with them for several years in the early 70s until they sold the entire ranch. Paddy then purchased land from the government farther up the mountain. Her family built a new log house for her, and this was her last home. She called her new place Hideaway Lake Ranch. She later bequeathed this land to her family.

Paddy remained on her ranch until she became ill, then alternated staying with her daughters; first Julie, then Cherie from July of 1983 until her death on Dec, 16 1983. Harold passed away a year later in Prince George.

Paddy or ‘Auntie Paddy’ as she was known by so many was a pioneer rancher (Wynn Johnson family and on her own), a family rancher (1909 to present day) and a working cowgirl all of her life. She had the respect of many for her abilities with cattle, horses, a gun and a rod. She was a lifelong friend of Antone Boitano whom she admired greatly. She counted many working cowboys among her good friends.

Today, Paddy’s granddaughter, Niki Hinton and her husband Cal now own the old Cripps ranch on Mud River and live in Paddy’s last log home. The couple acquired a portion through inheritance then they bought out other family members to own most of the Hideaway Lake Ranch. Later they purchased the original ranch (Chilako Ranch) on their own. Paddy’s son Clint kept his portion of the Chilako and still resides there.

Paddy’s ranch remains in the family to this day.

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