By Capt. K.S. Tory, Wainwright, Alta.
In this rich ranching country of Alberta the big name ranches and ranchers, and ranches with romantic backgrounds steeped in the traditions of the Alberta cattle story, are liable to obscure the less romantic but just as vital little ranch lay-outs known as Community Pastures.
Such a little lay-out, grazing about 3,000 head of stock, is stretched across the sandy plains of the former Buffalo Park, and its reserve, 12 miles south of Wainwright, Alberta. With the valley of the Battle River cutting into the West ranges and the Ribstone Creek wetting down hay and grazing territory in the central park, together with numerous lakes, the range is both provident and picturesque. E.J. (Bud) Cotton has made this area memorable in his stories about buffalo.
When the decision to remove the buffalo was final, the local farmers cast covetous eyes upon the rich grazing lands lying unused within the park fence. The P.F.R.A. looked upon the site with favour and pushed in survey parties preparatory to setting up a Federally-controlled community pasture as operated in other Provinces. Associated with the early moves of the pasture formation was a resolution sponsored by a meeting called “The All Farmers’ Conference” in 1941, requesting Hon. J.G. Gardiner to consider the matter. Local names like Lars Myggland, C. Ed Patterson, R.C. (Dick) Hissett, are associated with these early efforts.
With the need for emergency training areas during World War II, the Department of National Defence took over the old Buffalo Park and used it for the establishment of training and internment camps, later developing the Wainwright Military camp in this ideal training country.
The local stockmen went ahead on the lands available east of the fenced area, where an area of Crown lands, abandoned farms and municipal lands had been used for years by the early settlers and stockmen in the days of the free range. Lists were circulated and the data supplied the Department of Lands and Mines revealed there were 4,433 head of stock available for grazing on approximately 60,000 acres of range in Ranges 4, 5 and 6 West 4th.
A Provisional Board was set up with R.C. Hissett, President, Fred Maddex acting-Secretary and C. Ed Patterson, D.E. (Scotty) Hines, Robt. Bishop, G. Ted Scott, Leo (Billy) Brown, Felix A. Currier, and the District Agriculturist as Directors. The Association was incorporated in May 1948, with head office at Wainwright. Captain Kenn Tory was engaged as Secretary-Treasurer, and the organization opened its gates for business, receiving cattle from stockmen in the area of Edgerton, Heath, Czar, Metiskow, Cadogan and Wainwright.
The Department of Lands made the new Association responsible for the administration of hay permits within the former Buffalo Park. These ran annually into approximately 3,500 tons.
Early problems were overcome by co-operation and western goodwill. In an early meeting arranged by the Secretary with the Military Commander of the Camp, the Board members were shown into the Colonel’s presence by the Adjutant. The stockmen wanted hay for their stock and the Army was an adversary that was burning up good hay and grazing lands. The prep-meeting atmosphere was tense. Within half an hour, after the members indicated on large military maps in terms of section numbers, ranges and townships, and the Colonel replied in reference points, army place names, contours and features, the hay lands were made available to the stockmen when not used by the Army.
This early horse-trading meeting has paved the way for the finest liaison between local camp command and the Association; while Colonel George Weir of H.Q. Western Command has negotiated the over-all arrangements at the higher level.
Several times the Army Brass has accepted the invitation of the Board to sit in on meetings to discuss future policy and outline Army manoeuvre requirements that necessitate herding of the cattle.
Proof that the Army backs up the Association as the bargaining body for all local farmer contacts was established in the winter of 1949-50, when a feeder moved several hundred stock onto the Association’s area for winter feeding, contrary to the Association policy. So the Provost Marshall arrived at the camp one morning and gave the offender 72 hours to remove his stock.
To service this large herd of stock, the Board acquired Federal Department of Agriculture bulls under control of the Greenshields Grazing Association, another early organization for the improvement of breeding stock in the area. The members voted to establish a Hereford pasture, and now run eleven purebred bulls with the cows along with suitable private bulls.
Range riding on the herd was initiated by Leo (Billy) Brown, well known stampeded figure from Czar, who followed the herd and acted as mid-wife to new born beef during the season. Gordon Tattersall, of the well-known livestock-raising family of the district, is now head rider.
The present board elected by the 75 members has R. Chas. Stewart of Greenshields as President; C. Ed Patterson as Vice-President with Directors Beverly Almost and Leo Brown of Czar, Wm. (Bill) Castle and Foster Tennant of Edgerton, and Walter Jackson of Greenshields.
Despite the necessity for extra herding, with some hardship on the stock, because of the joint use of most of the range with Army troops at training, the local stockmen are convinced of the practical benefits to be secured through this co-operation within the Community Pasture. Whether the herd of grazing domestic stock will spread out to cover all the old stamping grounds of the huge buffalo herd, depends considerably on international affairs and the needs for training areas. But a lesson can be read in this rangeland tale of a small group of little stockmen and farmers, even within the sound of gunfire and the atmosphere of war preparedness, quietly pursuing the age-old industry of stock raising and the making of hay. These people don’t rate with the big names of the Alberta cattle industry but they represent some of the true wealth upon which Alberta has grown and by whose efforts great wealth is created.