pg 413 More Big Hill Country 2009
Looking back, I often remember the day I first took notice of a tall cowboy handing out prizes at the Ghost River Pony Club’s first Annual Gymkhana and Horse Show held at Agness Hammond’s Ghost River Ranch. The year was 1948 and my Shetland pony, Stardust, and I placed in one of the classes. The tall cowboy was Donald Edge and he handed me a prize and a ribbon. I was eight years old; he was nineteen. My prize was a storybook about a horse named Chocolate.
Donald John Leigh was born February 12, 1929, the second of five children born to Clem and Peggy Edge, who ranched in the Beaupre district nine miles northwest of Cochrane. After attending school at Beaupre Creek and Cochrane, Don completed his education at Olds School of Agriculture, graduating in 1949. He then worked three years for Calgary Power Ltd., at their Ghost Dam Plant and often rode his horse, Desmond, to and from work. By 1953 he was working for the Alberta Department of Agriculture as a brand inspector at the Calgary Stockyards. Later he went to Banff and spent summers working for Brewster Mountain Pack Trains as head guide and superintendent handling pack trips for the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies. The majestic mountains and valleys in their flowered splendour were Don’s paradise.
Don spent nine winters schooling polo ponies: seven at the Santa Barbara and Palo Alto polo fields in California for Pat Linfoot and two at Boca Raton, Florida, for Leo Hulseman, an ardent polo player. Leo was the founder and owner of the Solo Cup Company in Illinois. Good polo players are a cross between a jockey, a dressage rider, and a cowboy. While playing a few practice chukkers with Will Rogers Junior at Will Rogers State Park in the Pacific Palisades, California, Don observed the rustic fireplace in the late Will Rogers’s ranch house and patterned ours after it.
While in the U.S. Don found time to travel with Gene Holter’s Wild Animal Show, headquartered in Anaheim, California, featuring racing camels and ostriches. They had everything from monkeys to elephants. Don helped with the demonstrations when the camels and ostriches came to the Calgary Horse Show one year. When he fed an orange to an ostrich you could see the round lump sliding down inside its long bare neck.
I was born March 16, 1940, the second of three children born to Dave and Ellen Bryant, who operated a mixed farm in the Grand Valley district northwest of Cochrane. I started school in 1946 riding Stardust the two miles to Chapelton/Horse Creek School along with my brother, David, and our cousins, the Pattersons. The winters in the early 1950s were cold and harsh with large snowdrifts on the roads. Our Dads, Dave Bryant and Don Patterson, often rode partway with us, each carrying a scoop shovel over their shoulder to dig a single file pathway so we could ride through the crusted snowbanks. By the time my sister, Lillian, started school, we were travelling on Chet Baldwin’s bus to the new consolidated Westbrook School built-in 1953 on the west side of Highway 22 some 15 miles north of Cochrane.
When I graduated from Grade Twelve at Westbrook in 1958, Don was operating the horse rental corral at Lake Louise for Brewsters. He had hired my cousin, Bill Ullery, as ponyboy and recruited me to work for his friends, Floyd and Lillian Smith, at the Lake Agnes Teahouse up by the Big Beehive Mountain. All the groceries arrived there by packhorse and the food was cooked on a wood-burning stove. One menu choice was coffee or tea with three fresh hot baking powder biscuits served with butter and liquid honey. People loved it. That was the greatest summer. I made more money in tips than wages. The tourist season ended with a staff appreciation night in the Chateau Lake Louise ballroom with an orchestra playing the big band sound. I didn’t know it then, but that evening I was dancing with my future husband. At Christmastime, Don dropped by our house with a present for me. The gift was a beautiful gold and silver watchstrap handcrafted by his friend Steve Cody, a Canmore silversmith. I was thrilled. The next day, I found a cute Christmas card, signed it, and addressed it to Mr. D. Edge, Cochrane, Alberta. Well, David Edge received the card and he kidded me about it for years.
In May of 1959, the Department of Northern Affairs and the Northwest Territories Council agreed to permit buffalo hunting north of the Wood Buffalo National Park. Claude Brewster obtained an outfitter’s licence and instigated Brewster Buffalo Hunts and recruited his right-hand man, Don, who became the first white man to be issued a guide’s license to guide persons hunting the exclusive wood bison in Canada’s remote northland. Don’s sister, Edith, went along as a camp cook. Thirty trophy hunters signed up for a five-day hunt the first year at a cost of $550 each. Carrying their guns, they flew out of Edmonton to Fort Smith, staying overnight at the Pine Crest Hotel. The next day, in a floatplane that held four hunters, bush pilot Pat Carey flew them to Le Grande Detour campsite beside the Slave River. The buffalo hunting venture lasted three years until anthrax broke out in the herds and the Federal Government discontinued the trophy hunting expeditions. New York businessman, Charlie Stoll, bagged an animal in 1961 that measured second, at that time, for the record by the Boone and Crockett Club. Charlie’s photographer made a 38-minute wildlife video that we enjoyed showing visitors and folks at bison conventions.
After completing a Comptometer course and attending night school at Henderson’s Business College in Calgary in February 1959, I landed a job with Socony Mobil Oil Canada, Ltd., working in the steno’ pool, as they called it. I was eighteen and making $219 per month. While participating in Mobil’s Pegasus Club, I discovered some very good musicians were working for the company. I recruited twelve people and we started a country and western band and entertained in the Mobil Tower lobby during Stampede Week. Talk about fun! We were called “The Dry Hole Drillers’ (we weren’t a very successful outfit). We played at many functions including United Way campaigns and once played for the Zoological Society at Heritage Park. Over the years, I worked in several different Mobil departments and became the Administrative Assistant for the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Arne Nielsen. When he retired, I was asked by Mobil to work for Bobby Kimberlin, President of the newly formed Hibernia Management and Development Company to be headquartered in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Four Calgary-based companies owned the new company with Mobil owning the biggest percentage. This was a joint venture project whose mandate was to construct and operate the Hibernia offshore drilling and production facility at a location 200 miles east, southeast from Newfoundland, in the formidable North Atlantic, iceberg alley. I went to St. John’s to help restructure Mobil’s former East Coast office and set up the new company. My assignment with the Hibernia project was the highlight of my 32-year career with Mobil Oil Canada, Ltd., now ExxonMobil Canada. Time Magazine recognized the magnitude of Hibernia, calling it one of the eight wonders of the modern world. Both Bobby and I were retired before the first barrel of oil was extracted from the Hibernia field in 1997. I retired in 1990 but kept busy doing volunteer work.
I helped five authors produce books: Included are Jack Fuller’s Red Saddle Blankets (one of seventeen books printed in 1980 to commemorate Alberta’s 75th Anniversary); Leonard Friesen’s Cows, Cowboys. Cattlemen, and Characters, and Roundup of Memories Pierre Macullo’s 45 Years in Canada; and Wilf Britton’s millennium project The Life and Times of Wilf Britton.
I enjoyed being the secretary-treasurer for the Ghost River Pony Club for some 20 years and enjoyed being the secretary for the Beaupre Community Association for 12 years. Don served a time as president of both organizations.
When Donald and I were married, March 12, 1966, he was again employed as a brand inspector at the Calgary Stockyards. Meanwhile, he was raising Thoroughbred horses and Black Aberdeen Angus Hereford cross cattle, black baldies. His stallion, Tip
The Cap, was a beautiful chestnut. Don’s horse and cattle brands were (DM, left thigh) and (DM Bar, left rib), respectively. His grandfather, Donald Campbell Morrison, a pioneer to the country in 1887, initially registered these brands. In 1972 we built a house and settled down on the home place of his parents Bar 50 Ranch Sec 21 Twp 26 Range 5 W5M and SW Sec 27 Twp 26 Range 5 W5M. Later, Don also operated a business he called “Agricultural Enterprises” doing custom haying and combining.
Our first summer grazing area for our cattle was in the Bow Crow Forest Reserve north of the Bar C Ranch in the Burnt Timber region. Sheep Meadow Mountain stood stately in the background. It was a long haul and we trucked our cattle in and out over the dusty Forestry Trunk Road, now Highway 40. There were some 14,000 acres of wilderness with drift fences everywhere and no shortage of muskeg. The forested area had several large meadows with grazing along the trails. We loved riding there as the cowbirds (initially buffalo birds) would land on our horses’ rumps and ride along with us. We used a packhorse to carry salt to the salt licks. We often stayed overnight in our little green cabin that was surrounded by a thirty-acre holding pasture. One night a mouse ran under my neck and got tangled in my long hair. I flew out of bed screaming. I told Don a mouse attacked me. He said, “Oh, I thought a grizzly got in here.” We rode most weekends until the dirt bikers invaded the scenery. Finally, we hired a cowboy, Jim Kewley, to range ride for us during the week. He had a string of horses that he was breaking for Dr. Rowe, our dentist, and wanted to put some miles on them. One day he told us about meeting some bikers. They wanted to know where the best trails were, so he told them Manitoba.
During the fall harvest, October 6, 1969, at two o’clock in the afternoon, Don lost the fingers on his right hand in a combined accident. He was unplugging the straw buncher attachment when his glove got caught, jerking his hand into the hammer mill type mechanism. The safety guard stopped him from being pulled in further. Our good friend and neighbour, rancher Jim Kerfoot, whose field they were combining, drove Don in the fuel truck to Graham’s Pharmacy in Cochrane to get nurse Alice Graham to bandage his hand while Jim went to borrow a car from Graeme Broatch’s Texaco Garage. Alice couldn’t reach the bandages on the top shelf so she jumped up and knocked them flying all over the place. Rushing, she kindly took care of things. Within a flash, Jim showed up at the drugstore door driving Graeme Broatch’s brand new car and away they went to the Foothills Hospital in style. Jim told me, later, that he’d been all through WWII and he’d never seen a tougher man. Don seemed to have a high tolerance to pain; he didn’t say anything, but it was a sad time in our lives. He was up and dressed early every morning visiting the rest of the people on the ward with similar accidents. After five amputation operations, Don retained 50 percent of his hand’s working ability. Luckily, he always shot left-handed, but it did end his polo game. When people asked him how he was managing, he’d say: “Fine, but I am working a little short-handed.”
Our ranching business was a cow-calf operation; however, we started raising plains buffalo in 1976. Our first two buffalo cows were purchased at the Odd and Unusual Management sale and were originally from Al Oeming’s Game Farm at Sherwood Park, Alberta. Unlike those in the Territories, ours were somewhat domesticated. These two animals arrived at the Calgary Stockyards in December when Don was at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City hosting Canada Rides Tours. A ‘surprising’ telephone call from the yards related that Don’s buffalo were in and to hurry in here and pick them up. “You’re calling the wrong Edge,” I said, “They’re not ours.” The caller informed me that indeed they were Don’s and that he wanted them removed immediately because they were knocking down all the pens. I phoned Don and he quickly explained, “Yes, they’re ours, calm down, don’t worry, just tell them I’ll pick them up when I get home,” which he did. Next, we purchased a big bull that came from Wyoming. In 1984 this amorous buffalo decided to tour the countryside, headed north, made it down the main street of Crossfield and across the ball diamond into the cemetery before the authorities managed to tranquillize him so we could haul him home. His picture made the front page of the Edmonton Journal one morning and my Mobil boss, then, Neil Blackburn, placed the newspaper on my desk and asked if this was my buffalo. I said, “No, it’s Don’s.”
Then there was the sacred buffalo. God bless her. She was having trouble calving and our nephews, Terry and Marty Edge, cousins, brought her in from the field and put her in the chute. While the boys pulled the little lifeless orange calf, Don put a yellow tag in the cow’s ear. He opened the crash gate on the front of the chute and then slapped her on the rump. She popped out of there, doubled back around, hooked him, and tossed him up higher than the chute. She managed to knock him out and get a few more jabs in that lacerated his forehead. As I was driving him to the Foothills Hospital he kept telling me “the crash gate must have hit me.” I said, “No, the boys tell me your buffalo cow had you cornered. They rescued you.” This scary episode led to the discovery of Don’s early-stage lung cancer, which was averted for six and a half years.
For many years, we attended the Canadian and American Bison Conventions. One good quality offspring, sired by a huge bull we sold to US buyer Tony Heim, won an honour at the Gold Trophy Buffalo Show and Sale in Denver, Colorado. Because of the sire’s huge size, after using him as a herd bull for two years, Tony put him on display as a tourist attraction in Bear Butte State Park, South Dakota. Don had a great love for these majestic animals. We both loved and promoted buffalo meat. I can’t say as I ever enjoyed a thrilling buffalo chase, though. We got many folks started in the business. We mainly sold the breeding stock and our markets were in North and South Dakota and Saskatchewan until BSE curtailed shipments, at which time we decided to get out of the business. Thanks to Scott McCaffrey, our hired hand, for selling the remainder as organic meat, my herd now consists of a buffalo pin collection. I don’t have to feed or chase them. Guess I’m still a buffalo gal at heart!
When the former Cowboys’ Protective Association was incorporated on July 15, 1945, Don was the 431st cowboy to join. Today it’s known as the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association and Don was declared a Gold Card Life Member in 1974. In his younger days for fun and excitement, he competed in steer decorating, wild cow milking, and wild horse race events. He was also a chuckwagon outrider for Gordon Dingwall’s outfit. He judged many “Little Britches“ and “All Girls” rodeos. Don enjoyed working with the Cochrane Lions rodeo crew for some 30 years handling various arena jobs. Oftentimes, in his earlier days, he was a pickup man and used his horse, Tom, for that job. Next, he along with Doug Rodgers worked the calf and bulldogging chutes. Don was one of the 18 founding members of the Canadian Rodeo Historical Association and served on the selection committee. which inducts qualifying individuals and/or animals into the Canadian Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame. Don was the Wagon Master for the successful “Hooves of History 1990 Cattle Drive,” the big fundraising event staged by CRHA to promote the Western Heritage Centre.
With Don, life was never dull. He always referred to our little team of Thoroughbreds, Flash and Dandy, as the girls, the sweethearts, or his little darlings. He and his retired warden friend, Mac Elder, took them along with the fancy black carriage to the 1993 Grey Cup Parade in Calgary. It was a cold day as they were hooking up and the sweethearts were lively. Mac said. “Don, you better be careful.” “You worry too much.” was the reply. As Don attempted to put on his ‘brand new souvenir red and white Grey Cup coat,’ while standing beside the carriage, the lines slackened and the horses made a fast getaway down through the stage ing area. Some experienced guy down the line stopped them, but not before the carriage was somewhat dilapidated. Don was about half frozen when he got home and told me he’d had a wreck: “Them little pair of “bitches’ ran away on me today!”
In 1964, Don joined the Calgary Stampede as a volunteer, became a shareholder in 1970, and a Senior Associate in 1971. For 18 years he worked in the Stampede infield calculating scores for the rough stock events and discharging livestock for the timed events. He also served on the Calgary Horse Show Committee for 25 years. As a devoted member, Don always helped organize the Stampede Parade Section honouring the Southern Alberta Pioneers and Their Descendants. This is a unique organization; you have to be born into it. Each year honorary dignitary members are chosen to climb aboard the old-time buggies and participate in the Calgary Stampede Parade. Don was Pioneer Son in 1967 and was the Honorary Pioneer Gentleman in 2001, and I was Honorary Associate in 2003. Consistently, he also worked with the Downtown Street Attractions daily mini-parades using 15 old-time rigs and some 30 head of horses strung out a block-long transporting Stampede visitors through the streets of downtown Calgary. This one-hour five-mile tour is one of the nicest free things the Calgary Stampede does to welcome visitors. Don’s tenure volunteering at the Calgary Stampede spanned 42 years.
As a founding director of the Cochrane Lake Gas Co-op, Don served on the Board of Directors from 1973 to 2007. He helped plan and install gasification in the Cochrane rural area and was the director in charge of rural Tap 3 northwest of Cochrane. In the early stages of the Gas Co-op’s mandate, directors were like ‘staff’ and this included Chairman Garnet Ovans. Don always told the story about the freezing cold day they helped unload rolls and rolls of plastic pipe from boxcars, some 300 miles of orange-coloured Dupont gas pipe! They stockpiled it where the Nan Boothby library is situated today. In 1976, on our ranch property, they started plowing in gas lines. Don was presented with a plaque from the Gas Co-op in recognition and appreciation as a founding director in March 2006.
In 1973, Don was one of the 50 founders of the Cochrane and District Agricultural Society. He served on the directorship for 34 years, serving as president for 18 of those years. I, too, served as a director for several years. The Society’s first president was Nellie Spicer. One of the Ag. Society’s claims to fame is the fact that it brought horse racing back to Cochrane for five years in the early 1980s while operating at Griffin Park under the direction of President Jack Hawkwood,
a Bearspaw dairyman. He and director Bill Short were avid racehorse enthusiasts and they obtained a Racing Charter for the Ag. Society. When the races were on, we needed half the town as volunteers. Don was the paddock judge and I worked in the pari-mutuels. One day when the races were over, I was closing my pay window so I could balance my payout sheet when all of a sudden a hand shoved in two tickets and a mumbled voice ordered “pay-me-now.” Looking at the tickets in a slight panic, I determined they were not winners. I looked up and the tall cowboy, my husband, laughing, had just picked them up off the ground!” In June 2007, a very nice tribute was extended to both of us, when Ag. Society President Duncan Stewart and fellow directors presented me with a plaque in appreciation of our volunteerism, 1973-2007.
On the day of the grand opening of the Cochrane Ranche Historic Site, May 21, 1979, Don enjoyed the privilege of unveiling the Men of Vision statue, sculpted by the late Malcolm MacKenzie, in place of the late Honorable Clarence Copithorne, the Park’s originator. Riding his horse, Tom, Don rode toward the helicopter where the ailing honourable minister and his nurse were stationed inside, saluted his buffalo hunting friend, rode up the face of the hillside, and pulled away the striking red shroud. It was truly a spectacle to remember. Also, Don was instrumental in floodlighting the Men of Vision statue.
From 1980 to 1989, Don was a councillor for the Municipal District of Rocky View and was the Chairman of its Agricultural Service Board for several years. Noxious weeds were his pet peeve. In 1994, he was commended with an Outstanding Citizenship Award from the MD of Rocky View for his dedicated involvement in community and agricultural affairs.
Don helped instigate and worked many years as a director with the Pine Slopes Ranchers Association at Water Valley, Alberta. The workers built corrals and livestock auctions were held. We sold our calves there every fall for quite a few years. This organization was instrumental in initiating pre-sort calf sales now the norm at local auction markets. I helped, clerking, at some of the sales.
For many years, Don was a director for Action for Agriculture, an organization formed in 1990 consisting of individuals concerned with maintaining agriculture awareness in Alberta. Don was seriously concerned about urban sprawl and wished more people would get involved and support agriculture.
Together, in 1984, Don and I received the Community Builder of the Year Award from the Cochrane and District Chamber of Commerce.
In 1998, representing area ranchers and local cowboys, we were asked to be Parade Marshals for the Cochrane Labor Day parade, the theme of which was “Salute to the Cowboy”.
In July 2005 the Old Time Range Men’s Dinner Association presented Don with the “Range Man of the Year” award at the 74th Annual Dinner in appreciation of his service to the industry.
Later that same year, referring to us as a ‘tag team, we were each conferred with an Alberta Centennial Medal honouring outstanding Albertans.
One of the most memorable occasions in our lives was in March 2006 when the Edge and the Bryant families pulled off a surprise 40th wedding anniversary party for us at the Beaupre Community Hall. My sister, Lillian, was the entertaining M.C., and the Edges belted out a song they had written to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies that pretty well summed up our life’s story. Our neighbours, Dave and Carol Whitehead made us a video of the whole affair that we cherished and enjoyed watching many times.
The end of this story begins when three rodeo pioneers were honoured prior to the Classic Bull Riding even staged by Jason Borton et al. on April 14, 2007, at the Totem Arena in Cochrane. Norman Edge, his brother the late Don Edge, and Leo Brown were recognized for their contribution to the sport of rodeo and to the Cochrane community. I stood in for my dear husband Donald and was proud to be there for him as he had been looking forward to this momentous occasion
In September 2007, as a tribute, the Labor Des Parade committee invited the Edge families to be parade marshals in memory of Don. We were most happy to be there and 33 Edges with two horse drawn rigs and a mounted contingent were in the big parade
Each day, before the afternoon rodeo performance the Cochrane Lions coordinators acknowledged the missing cowboys: Wayne Cunningham, Frank Wenman, and my husband Don Edge. These men we remembered through the powerful words in one of Baxter Black’s poems. When announcer Gerry Miller read the bottom line you could have heard a pin drop “God needed three more cowboys and Wayne, Frank and Don fit right in.”
Don departed this world on April 2, 2007, and I miss him greatly. When God called, Don kissed me good crossed the big divide and rode into the sunset.