Alberta Order of Excellence honours agricultural trailblazers

Cor Van Raay is one of eight recipients of the Alberta Order of Excellence for 2021.

Three beef industry leaders are among the eight citizens slated to receive the Alberta Order of Excellence.

The award is the province’s highest honour for citizens under the Canadian Honours System. Cor Van Raay, Dr. Barbara Olson and Dr. Merle Olson were named for their contributions to the beef industry and the community.

Barbara and Merle Olson are behind Alberta Veterinary Laboratories Ltd. and Solvet, where they research, develop and manufacture a range of animal health products, including Meloxicam Oral Suspension (to relieve pain and inflammation in recently castrated calves).

Barbara Olson holds a graduate degree in toxicology, a Ph.D. from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine and also completed a post-doc from the University of Calgary. Merle Olson earned a graduate degree in electrochemistry before graduating from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine and joining a veterinary practice at Pincher Creek, Alta.

Merle and Barbara conducted research together while working at the University of Calgary, notably as part of the Biofilm Research Group, where they studied how biofilms affect chronic infections. They helped develop the Calgary Biofilm Device, to help doctors choose the best antimicrobials to treat infections associated with cystic fibrosis. The Calgary Biofilm Device is now used in human and veterinary medicine as well as plant pathology, notes an Alberta government release.

Cor Van Raay was born in Holland and immigrated to Vancouver in 1959, where he worked as a landscaper. He then moved to Alberta, where he began farming by growing beets, then diversified into other crops, and eventually bought cattle and built large feedlots. He later expanded his farming operation in Saskatchewan.

Cor was known not only for his business acumen but also for supporting the community. He supported several causes, including the Chinook Regional Hospital Foundation, Picture Butte High School and community, the Dragon Boat festival, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Interfaith Food Bank, the Lethbridge YMCA, Lethbridge College, the University of Lethbridge and St. Catherine’s Parish and School in Picture Butte. His $3.75 million gift to the Lethbridge YMCA was among the largest donations ever to a Canadian YMCA and allowed the Lethbridge organization to build a state-of-the-art facility.

“Cor always kept his eyes on the horizon of the agriculture industry,” said Dr. Paula Burns, president and CEO of Lethbridge College, in a release. Burns nominated Cor on behalf of the college and southern Alberta community. “He was a lifelong experimenter. That likely was part of his ability to take risk – he understood his exposure, but he was always looking for what’s new to try. Through his philanthropy and a lifetime of work, Cor improved the lives, futures and potential of students and society.”

Cor Van Raay passed away in July, before the investiture ceremony, but he learned he was to receive the award before he died.

Other nominees include Joan Donald of Red Deer, who has worked in governance and leadership for organizations in fields ranging from social justice to sports; Cyril Kay of Edmonton, a biochemist whose vision to create and lead multidisciplinary teams has revolutionized biomedical research; Murray McCann of Calgary, who has created programs that honour fallen soldiers and support homeless veterans; Dr. Greg Powell of Calgary, who co-founded the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS); and Lena Heavy Shields-Russell (Ikkináínihki) of the Blood Reserve, who created Alberta’s Blackfoot curriculum, safeguarding the language and culture to pass on to future generations.

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