The Waldron Ranch - originally called the Walrond Ranch - was formed in 1883 during a time when much of Alberta’s grasslands were transformed into cattle country.
“Virtually everything that was flat and fertile with water resources adequate to feed livestock, was homesteaded and cultivated. The band along the edge of the Rockies just happened to be rugged enough that it didn’t really get cultivated a great deal,” says Larry Simpson, the director of strategic philanthropy and conservation for the Nature Conservancy of Canada - one of today’s Waldron Ranch partners.
The Porcupine Hills sit east of the Waldron Ranch and the Whaleback is to the west.
In 1883, the Walrond Cattle Ranch Ltd. was established by Duncan McNab McEachran of Montreal. At that time, 260,000 acres of land were leased and stocked with 8,500 head of Hereford and Polled Angus cattle.
The ranch ceased active operation in 1908 and the cattle were sold to Pat Burns.
Most of the land was leased to W.R. Hull and later to Pat Burns. Various portions of the land were also sold to Frank Lynch-Staunton, the King Brothers and George Potter. The land eventually ended up in the hands of Wilbur Griffith.
In the late ’50’s, a few ranchers - all WWII veterans - had the idea of forming a co-operative and purchasing community pasture for their cattle.
This early idea evolved into a much larger group - 116 southern Alberta ranchers and farmers - led by Ed Nelson, Bill Grieg, Ellis Oviatt, Axel Sunquist, Bernie Kokesch, Freddie Koehler and Bill Yorgason - forming a co-operative and purchasing the Waldron Ranch in 1962.
It cost the group $1 million in 1962 to purchase the holding - which, at that time consisted of 45,000 acres. Essentially, shareholders bought shares in the ranch and the co-op which entitled them to bring their cattle to the Waldron to graze.
The efforts expended by the Waldron Ranch visionaries was significant. Weeks and months of driving throughout southern Alberta to explain their goal and interest ranchers and farmers in signing up (and finding the money) for the base number of shares ($5000 for a minimum five shares with five cows allotted per share) up to $25,000 for the maximum 25 shares was challenging. To make the sales pitch more appealing, the group set it up so that shareholders needed 25% of the money to down - $1250 for the minimum five shares.
The work of the early Waldron Ranch shareholders paid off. With the help of a 15% Alberta provincial government loan guarantee and a creative Bank of Montreal manager willing to back the group, Waldron Grazing Co-operative Ltd., was officially born and the Waldron Ranch moved under the group’s ownership.
Tim Nelson, recent chairman of the board for the Waldron Ranch, commented about his dad, Ed, one of the men who led the group in 1962.
“Why did they (the members) do it? They wanted to buy the Waldron so that your average farmer on the flat lands could run extra cattle,” explaineds Nelson. “The group that started it didn’t really know what grazing was about. They didn’t know different types of grasses, so they hired people to help with that.”
Nelson said that cattle prices in 1962 were 23 cents a pound for fat cattle. Cattle prices now are about $1.25. The price of the land went from the $1 million paid out in 1962 to about $80 or $100 million today.
Something that’s special about the Waldron Ranch land is that it’s comprised primarily of native grass, which holds food value through the winter. Less than one per cent of Alberta’s land remains as native grassland.
THE KING (Bateman) RANCH
In 2015 the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) assisted the Waldron Grazing Co-operative in adding the historic King Ranch to the largest conservation easement in Canadian history.
Prior to this expansion, the ranch totaled 51,000 acres of land. In an $11.25 million deal, the Waldron Grazing Co-operative bought 14,000 acres of deeded and leased property, plus rights to graze forest reserve land.
One year later, NCC and the Cooperative placed an easement on this property as well, as it had done earlier with the rest of the Waldron holding, therefore assuring the entire block of deeded land will remain intact and conserved for all time.
The purchase of the property extended the Waldron grassland by an additional 4,200 acres of deeded land, 500 of lease land and 9,000 acres of forestry grazing rights amounting to 2,019 animal unit months.
Harold and Maurice KingThe King Ranch was last owned by ranchers Bill and Cody Bateman of Cochrane, Alberta and prior to that by the eccentric multimillionaire King Brothers, Harold and Maurice — two colourful bachelors who helped shape ranching in Southern Alberta.
Often clad in binder twine suspenders, the Kings were the stuff of legend. They were known to be shrewd business managers despite their lack of formal education. Although, by the time of their deaths in the 1990’s, the ranch was worth millions, the brothers had lived virtually all of their lives in notoriously frugal, near total isolation, believing, for example, that neither electricity nor a bathtub were necessary comforts. Maurice and Harold King were Waldron Grazing Co-operative share holders.
The land of the Waldron ranch is used as a grazing co-op with 65 shareholders, who have livestock that graze there. By adding the King ranch to the Waldron ranch land, these lands will continue to be working lands, free from cultivation and development, thus keeping this pristine and critical area almost exactly the same as it has been for centuries.