Court rules 2 B.C. lakes cannot be publicly accessed, siding with Canada's largest cattle ranch

·2 min read
The Douglas Lake Cattle Company has won a years-old fight to restrict access to local anglers to two pristine trout lakes on its property. ( - image credit)
The Douglas Lake Cattle Company has won a years-old fight to restrict access to local anglers to two pristine trout lakes on its property. ( - image credit)

The largest working cattle ranch in Canada has won its fight against public access to two pristine fishing lakes in B.C.'s Nicola Valley, after appeal court judges overturned part of a previous ruling that said the lakes should be accessible to the public.

The Douglas Lake Cattle Company (DCLC) had been battling the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club over access to the two trout lakes near Merritt, B.C., for years. The David and Goliath fight came close to resolution in 2018 after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled Minnie Lake and Stoney Lake should be publicly accessible.

The owner of the ranch, American billionaire Stan Kronke, won his part of his appeal challenging that decision on Friday.

The B.C. Court of Appeal found the lower court erred in 2018 because portions of trails and road leading to the lakes are not public and don't quite reach the shorelines of either lake.

So, even though the water in the lakes is public, there is no way to get there without trespassing on private property.

Rick McGowan, who argued for decades that the DLCC had unlawfully blocked anglers from visiting the lakes, said the decision sets a precedent that could threaten hiking routes across the province, since many cross private property.

"This is a real serious blow to the people of B.C. and Canada," said McGowan, who lives in Merritt. "What they are saying is that the laws that describe roads lanes and publics places, that those laws don't apply [to roads and trails]."

Rick McGowan's wife, Patti McGowan, and his granddaughter stand beside a frozen-over Stoney Lake in December 2018, a week after public access was granted by the B.C. Supreme Court —a ruling that has now been overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal .
Rick McGowan's wife, Patti McGowan, and his granddaughter stand beside a frozen-over Stoney Lake in December 2018, a week after public access was granted by the B.C. Supreme Court —a ruling that has now been overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal .(Rick McGowan)

For years, DCLC blocked Stoney Lake Road and centuries-old trails with fences and locked gates to keep people away from the lakes.

Minnie Lake and Stoney Lake are surrounded by 200,000 hectares of land owned by the ranch, which claimed the access roads, water bodies and fish in them are private property.

Members of the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club argued the lakes and roadway were Crown land and should be free for anyone to use. The B.C. Supreme Court judge in 2018 noted public money was spent on Stoney Lake Road, a route that was previously a historic trail from an Indigenous village.

McGowan told CBC's Radio West on Friday afternoon that the club has decided to file an appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada.

Tap the link below to hear Rick McGowan's interview on Radio West: