History: Retirement of Wilbur McKenzie

Reprinted from the March 1947 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

Retirement of Wilbur McKenzie
By C.F. Steele, Lethbridge, Alta.

W.C. Wilbur McKenzie, managing director of the Alberta Co-op Association, resigned his position with the Lethbridge organization and will retire the first of April. Mr. McKenzie, one of the best-known livestock-marketing men in the West, will look after his personal interests in the city and district and will continue to live in Lethbridge. He plans to take things easier but eventually may buy some grassland in the foothills of the Rockies where he could graze a bunch of “Whitefaces,” which, he says, are “always nice to look at.”

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It was back in 1923 that three locals of the U.F.A. in the Lethbridge district set up a provisional marketing board for the selling of alfalfa hay for the members of the association projected. Wilbur McKen­zie became the chairman and the Rev. Normal Priestley, later prominent in the Central U.F.A., and now of Calgary, became the secretary.

A charter was obtained in 1924 and a permanent board set up. An office was organized in Lethbridge with Mr. McKenzie made managing director, a job he has held for 23 years. The association has specialized in handling livestock and general farm supplies, and is today one of the largest and most prosperous co-operative marketing units in the West. For 10 years Wilbur served on the directors’ board of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which body he helped to organize. He was chairman of the Alberta Livestock Marketing Board from 1934 to 1936.

The retirement of Mr. McKenzie recalls some of the important phases of the livestock business in southern Alberta. In the early ’20s there was no livestock feeding in the district. Irrigation farmers were growing large surpluses of alfalfa hay, which was baled and shipped by rail to distant markets. In those years the co-operative handled around 15,000 tons of hay for its members annually. This was often a difficult task as there always seemed more hay than markets.

About this time they launched a livestock-feeding project, the idea being to market the alfalfa through livestock. And so the livestock-feeding industry was born.

During the Depression years with the U.S. outlet closed to Canadian beef production, the co-operative turned to Britain and thousands of head of cattle were exported to the United Kingdom. At times an entire boat would be chartered to move the stock.

In 1933 Wilbur shipped a trainload of baby beef to Great Britain, this being the first Canadian baby beef to reach that market. These young choice cattle were from the McIntyre, Ross, McHugh and other well-known ranches and were well received in the Old Country.

One of the highlights of Wilbur’s experience in exporting beef to England was one day late in ’34. His office telephone rang and on answering he was surprised to learn that “London was calling.” It was William Brown of Brown Abattoirs, Ltd. of Manchester and he said he was ready to cable 15,000 pounds ($60,000 at that time) to buy cattle to be put on feed in the southern Alberta feedlots, the lot to be sent to Brown’s company in the spring,

“Our feedlots were all filled at the time,” said Mr. McKenzie and he admitted he didn’t know who he could get to do the feeding.

“However, not to be beaten and lose that much dough, I told him to cable the money and that we would buy and feed the cattle. I heard about some surplus hay in the Red Deer and Lacombe district and I went up there and secured 20 feeders to feed 50 cattle and when spring came Mr. Brown, being a director of the Manchester Lines, chartered two of the company’s boats which sailed with the cattle from Montreal, thus completing an important deal for the co-operative.

“A Ross ranch steer topped the British market one day as this shipment was being sold,” said Mr. McKenzie.

While Wilbur McKenzie has had considerable experience in the export trade to Britain, he holds that the U.S. market is the natural outlet for Canadian cattle and thinks that market should be open now.

The successor to Mr. McKenzie has not been named.

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