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Dudley Witney.
Text by Moira Johnston.

Toronto, Key Porter Books, c1983.
237pp, cloth, $39.95.
ISBN 0-919493-09-2.

All Ages.

Reviewed by Gudrun Wright.

Volume 12 Number 6
1984 November

Superb photography and intriguing text present a fascinating overview of ranching in the North American west. Beginning with the scrawny, long-horned cattle brought to Mexico by Cortez to feed his soldiers, the herds gradually spread over the grasslands vacated by the buffalo from Texas to Alberta, as well as into British Columbia's Cariboo district and, in recent decades, into the remote Chilcotin region west of Williams Lake.

Dudley Witney, while taking photographs for his book with Brendan Gill, Summer Places (McClelland, 1978), became fascinated with the immensity and sculptured beauty of these rangelands. He spent three years visiting many ranches, from the vast Douglas Lake Cattle Company in the Nicola valley of British Columbia to the Buckley family ranch in its lovely Powder River canyon in Wyoming.

In 108 distinctive colour photographs (fourteen of them double-spreads) and over a hundred black and white, he explores every facet of ranch life. His photographs are of exceptional quality, giving an illusion of texture and depth and great distances, and their arrangement on the pages is interestingly varied.

Moira Johnston, whose reporting expertise has produced feature stories in publications such as National Geographic as well as two books provides the text. A visitor to the Bonaparte Ranch in the Cariboo for over twenty-five years, Johnston extended her background knowledge of ranching with first-hand research. Approximately following Witney's route, she traced by car the old cattle trails from California through Texas and north to Alberta, and finally west to the Chilcotin. By reducing her research to a few representative ranches and personalities, she has sketched the complex history of western ranching up to the present in sixty pages of effortless reading (not counting the informative captions that accompany all the photographs).

This is a beautiful book, a masterpiece easily worth the price. It has sturdy binding, paper of unusually good quality, and clear, large type, but not so large as to suggest a book for beginning readers. I highly recommend it for public libraries, for pleasure reading in schools, for coffee tables, and for special gift-giving. It is a book that even reluctant readers and people with failing eyesight will enjoy.

Gudrun Wight, Faculty of Education, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.
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