A Stunning Gift

In the July/August, 2011 issue of Western Horse Review, Darla Rathwell visited and wrote about the historic OH Ranch near Longview, Alberta. At the time, three of the four individual ranches belonging to the OH had been sold following owner Doc Seaman’s death in 2009. One remained, the original ranch, a foothills paradise in southwestern Alberta. On the ranch stood a few historic buildings – the 1885 ranch house, the old cookhouse and a replica Northwest Mounted Police cabin. It was acquired by philanthropist, rancher and businessman Bill Siebens later last year, and on June 19th, Siebens did something incredibly remarkable. He gifted the entire almost 8,000-acre southern portion of the OH Ranch – along with the historic OH brand – to the Calgary Stampede Foundation for continued preservation of its environmental and cultural heritage values.

OH Ranch, photo courtesy Calgary Stampede.

The vision and generosity shown by Bill Siebens is stunning. All westerners have received a beautiful gift this week, for the gesture now ensures the preservation of the ranch and land for future generations.

According to a Calgary Stampede press release the Foundation will work with the Calgary Stampede to develop a management plan for the ranch that “furthers the organizations’ shared mission to preserve and promote western heritage and values.” In operation as a ranch for close to 130 years, the OH ranch consists of deeded (private) and leased (public) land. Siebens’ gift is valued at more than $11 million and is the largest private gift ever received by the Stampede Foundation.

Bill Siebens, photo courtesy Calgary Stampede.

“Alberta has been my home for 54 years. I made my career in the oil business, raised my family here and have a deep attachment and love for the Foothills country west of Calgary,” said Bill Siebens, who also owns the neighboring Tongue Creek Ranch. “Things turned out well for me and I want to make this gift to the Calgary Stampede Foundation for a few reasons. The Stampede is 100 years old this summer. I’ve been at 54 of those Stampedes. I know that in their hands the southern portion of the OH Ranch will be well cared for for the next 100 years,” noted Siebens. “This is my gift to the people of Alberta. The Stampede is way more than 10 days of rodeo, corporate parties and fireworks. It is an important link to Alberta’s past – the ranchers, the homesteaders, the cowboys and the Aboriginal people. This land will give Albertans a big, beautiful connection to their past – a connection that will endure for many future generations.

“I know this corner of Alberta very well. I have ranched out here for over 33 years. My kids and my grandkids and I ride out here, fish, chase cows and enjoy the wonderful scenery. I want my kids and grandkids to remember that, and I want other Albertans to have that as well. I want people from all walks of life to be able to bring their kids out here to see a working ranch with working cowboys and horses and cows and all that,” said Siebens. “Thanks to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the OH Ranch will always be protected against development. That is, of course, what I want for the part of the OH Ranch I am keeping, and that is what I am most excited about for the land I am giving to the Stampede Foundation.

“The Calgary Stampede – the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth – was and is run by volunteers. I know that the volunteers now, and the next generation of volunteers, will honour my wish to encourage and allow Albertans and others to come out and enjoy this special place. That is what is important to me. That is what the Calgary Stampede Foundation and I have agreed to. The Calgary Stampede has celebrated Alberta’s culture for the past 100 years, and this gift will encourage that for the next 100 years,” concluded Siebens.

At an announcement held Tuesday morning at Calgary’s Stampede Park, Siebens also handed over the OH branding irons, thereby giving the Stampede Foundation the rights to the OH brand – one of the oldest brands that has been continuously registered and used in Western Canada. The ranching property given to the Stampede Foundation will continue to carry the OH Ranch name.

OH Ranch, photo courtesy Calgary Stampede.

“The OH Ranch is an authentic, living embodiment of Western Canada’s ranching heritage,” said Steve Allan, vice-chair, Stampede Foundation. “This historic land will further the work of the Calgary Stampede Foundation and the Calgary Stampede –to promote and preserve western values.”

The OH Ranch is Alberta’s second ‘heritage rangeland’ protected area, and operates under an easement agreement with the Nature Conservancy of Canada for the purposes of the protection, conservation and enhancement of the environment, biological diversity, natural, scenic and aesthetic values, natural habitat and similar purposes. As a historic rangeland, the ranch is not focused on recreation opportunities and the area is under grazing lease – with hunting and access restrictions.