At loose ends on a summer afternoon, I decided it was a good time to circle back to the Bert Sheppard Library and Archives and immerse myself in the history of the men and women who started ranching in western Canada almost 150 years ago. Tucked into a sunlit high-ceilinged room on the west end of the Cochrane RancheHouse is a treasure-trove of western memorabilia. A wealth of well-worn saddles, many different designs of spurs and horseshoes, literally hundreds of examples of barbed wire and more than 19,000 books and magazines showcase Alberta’s livestock culture. Vintage cowboy hats adorn the wooden beams, looking down on cowboy art, from murals and paintings to bronze castings, including a bust of legendary cattleman, Bert Sheppard, the library’s namesake.
The Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation
Fifth generation ranching families carry on their traditional way of life today. And if you are wanting to learn more about their history, you’ve come to the right place. In 1980, The Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation was established to commemorate the builders of Canada’s livestock industry. Integral to this endeavour was the collection of 154 boxes of files of expired brands, original documents kept from 1885 to 1987 that identified owners and their property.
Brands – the family tartans of the prairies
Brand. We take the word for granted these days. From mega sportswear companies to football teams to kitchen appliances, it’s all about the brand and how marketers make their products stand out. But I wonder how many of them know the origin of the brand rests with the need to identify your livestock in a time where fences were few and animals grazed freely. The first brands in Alberta were registered in 1881. Historic Cochrane Ranch, Alberta’s first large scale livestock operation, was the 17th to be registered with a simple C, recognizable today. Over time, brands came to represent the families who registered them. A good Example is the Bar U Ranch, now a National Historic Site.
Create your own brand
The Stockmen’s folk have come up with a very cool way for you to bring part of this history home with you. I started by searching through the cancelled brand books to see if anyone had used my initials for a brand. There were a few but there can be as many as six of the same one, depending on the position used; e.g., left rib, left shoulder, left hip and ditto on the right. I was in luck. There was room for me to register for a right hip location. The Bar JU was about to be mine! I’m seriously considering registering it. I even sketched out a design: a solid bar with my initials underneath.
Kick it up a notch
Beginning this summer, visitors can do all this and more. Once they’ve scanned the brand books to see what’s available, everyone can come up with their own design. The library is filled with branding irons, so you can sort through to find ones that can bring your idea to life. The staff will then heat their irons to imprint your brand on a piece of wood for you to take home as a souvenir. How’s that for a western cowboy howdy! Call Scott to schedule your group into the “Tartan of the Prairies” Brand Experience Tour at 403-932-3782!
Guest Journalist – Jane Usher
Photographer – Jacquie Matechuk