Ranch owner heads to Government House

VICTORIA —British Columbia’s 29th lieutenant governor is the second woman to accept the role, but she’s the first female rancher to hold court since the position was formalized in 1871.

Judith Guichon, who with her late husband, Lawrence, owned the Gerard Guichon Ranch in the Nicola Valley, north of Merritt, has taken up residence at Government House for a five-year-term as the Queen’s representative in B.C.

She has swapped 15,000 acres of deeded and 65,000 acres of crown lands, the 700 head cow-calf and 700 yearling operation and bed and breakfast business for the 36 acre property with elaborate gardens, a three-storey manor featuring a 300 seat ballroom and full staff.

“This is a big change from the ranch,” said Guichon, 65, who took up her post Nov. 2, replacing Steven Point, a former judge and First Nations leader.

In early November, she hosted a large dinner at Government House honouring long-service provincial government employees and earlier that week was in Vancouver for an emergency services event, just two of the roughly 300 functions she will attend each year.

Guichon wasn’t sure why she was picked but she is aware that her appointment was supported by federal and provincial politicians from various parties.

When prime minister Stephen Harper’s office called her in September to ask if she wanted to be B.C.’s new lieutenant governor, she at first thought it was a joke. Now, as she settles into the position, Guichon plans to take the job seriously.

“I hope I can help raise the level of awareness of what agriculture does for the country and how important it is,” she said in an interview at Government House.

That’s crucial for Guichon because Canada needs to ensure it has the next generation of farmers. Her family is doing fine, with her son, Michael, and daughter, Allison, and their families running the ranch. Guichon has two other grown children.

Lawrence’s descendants came from France to the Cariboo goldfields in 1862 and arrived in the Nicola Valley in 1866.

Having her children, the fifth generation, take over is part of the succession-retirement plan for Guichon and her second husband Bruno Mailloux, an invasive plant specialist.

Guichon said it is crucial that people, particularly in urban areas, learn about the value of agriculture and that it needs to be sustained. When it come to farming and ranching, distinct knowledge about individual pieces of land isn’t something that can be read in a book, she added. It is learned by seeing and doing.

“Every piece of property is so unique,” Guichon said.

A steward of the land, Guichon said urbanites, in particular young people more interested in consumerism and gaming, must learn that farmers and ranchers provide more than food and are more than peasants.

Clean air, clean water, new topsoil, species habitat and carbon sequestration are important things that come from farms and ranches, she said.

Guichon was born in Montreal and raised on a farm near Hawkesbury, Ont. She moved to B.C. in 1972. She and Lawrence introduced holistic land management practices to B.C. ranchers. The third female president of the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, Guichon finished her two-year term in May 2012.

“Judy is an outstanding and dedicated person who has been a terrific representative for B.C. ranchers,” said Kevin Boon, BCCA general manager.

In addition to championing agriculture, Guichon intends to continue the work of her predecessor, promoting literacy and aboriginal reconciliation.

Guichon has served as a director for the Fraser Basin Council of B.C., director of the Grasslands Conservation Council of B.C., was a member of the Nicola Water Use Management Planning Committee, served on the Provincial Task Force on Species at Risk and the British Columbia Agri-Food Trade Advisory Council.

Guichon’s ranch was the first in B.C. to allow the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C. to re-introduce threatened burrowing owls to the ranch in 1992. One owl, born at the ranch in 2002, recently turned up in southern California, she said.

“The project’s doing very well.”

There will definitely be one reminder that Government House is inhabited by a rancher who happens to have a chef with a cattle background.

Grass-fed, B.C. beef will be on the menu, Guichon promised.

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