Cochrane is steeped in western cowboy heritage that continues to define the town to this day. Courtesy the Town of Cochrane

Embracing tradition

Western heritage is a part of everyday life for residents of Calgary-area ranching communities

While the Calgary Stampede offers Calgarians a mere 10 days each year to indulge in Alberta’s ranching and cowboy heritage, that heritage is celebrated every day by residents of communities surrounding the city, including Cochrane, Longview and Turner Valley.

“Cochrane is here because of ranching,” said Cochrane town councillor Tara McFadden. Cochrane is named after the man who, in 1881, started the Cochrane Ranche – Alberta’s first large-scale livestock operation and a site that remains one of Cochrane’s prime attractions.

“Cochrane’s ranching history is very important to the Town of Cochrane today. We actively take great pride in keeping it as part of Cochrane’s attraction,” said McFadden, noting, for example, that the town requires any new building erected within its boundaries to reflect a Western heritage design.

Beyond the built community, however, McFadden says it’s the residents who ultimately define Cochrane.

“People in Cochrane reflect the rancher ethos. Like ranchers, the people of Cochrane have vision and work hard.”

Those from the surrounding areas who still rely on livestock for their livelihoods make their way into Cochrane regularly, McFadden adds. Furthermore, the community hosts events like the annual Cochrane Labour Day Parade and Rodeo. Both continue to make Cochrane’s ranching roots a very real part of the Cochrane of today.

Ranching roots are also alive and well south of Calgary, in Turner Valley and Longview.

“Alberta’s beginnings are in Turner Valley,” said David Farran, founder of Turner Valley’s Eau Claire Distillery, referencing the discovery of oil in the area in 1914.

Besides Turner Valley’s historic role in Alberta’s oil-and-gas industry, it’s an area where, Farran says, “our ranching history and culture is very much alive.

“People here really respect those traditions and keep them going,” he said, attributing that, in part, to the younger generations of ranching families who now operate their families’ historic ranches and participate in activities like 4-H clubs.

Farran acknowledges that Turner Valley’s history – along with its scenery – is responsible for putting it on the tourism map. Tourism, in turn, helps to sustain the community and continues to perpetuate its history. “Tourism is one of the big opportunities for a town like Turner Valley. It forces you to revive those roots and traditions, so there’s a reason for people to visit,” said Farran.

“Cochrane is here because of ranching.” – Tara McFadden, Cochrane town councillor

However, he says he has noticed a delinking between Calgary and the ranching community.

“When I grew up, everyone had an uncle who had a farm, but it’s not the same anymore,” he said, adding that Calgarians tend to focus on Banff as their backyard and playground.

“Calgarians don’t recognize how close towns like Turner Valley are – it’s a faster commute to go to Turner Valley than to go downtown … the areas in the foothills, along the Cowboy Trail, are among the most beautiful places in the world, and they’ve been overlooked.”

Not far from Turner Valley lies the Village of Longview, a community of 311 people.

“For Longview to survive, we survive as a community. We get as much input and value from our neighbours outside the village as from within,” said Cliff Ayrey, a village councillor.

Unlike in a big city, Ayrey describes the Longview mindset as “neighbourly,” a reflection of the area’s ranching history and its ranching neighbours.

“We have farmers and ranchers from outside Longview’s borders who come in to sell their produce within the village. That neighbourly, ranching mindset is always there through business and friendship. It’s a self-sustaining engine,” said Ayrey, echoing Farran when he adds that the younger generation is taking over the area’s family farms.

Furthermore, Ayrey says, the community’s identity dictates the nature of some of Longview’s businesses, which then further re-enforce that identity. He points to the local art galleries that focus on western-heritage art as examples.

Just like in Cochrane and Turner Valley, businesses in Longview are encouraged to develop exteriors that reflect western themes. However, Ayrey says, the village doesn’t have to do much convincing, because most people who move to Longview wish to preserve its established character and lifestyle.

“The buy-in is already there,” he said.

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