The “Big 4” of the Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth
Guy Weadick, the enthusiastic 27 year old American Cowboy, came to Calgary in 1912 with an ambitious plan to create “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”. It was to be a celebration of Alberta’s “Golden age of Ranching”, which had diminished due to the arrival of thousands of settlers and the deadly cold winter of 1906- 1907 where thousands of cattle perished.
Guy needed financial support for his over-the-top idea and fortunately 4 wealthy ranchers, collectively known as “The Big 4”, agreed to step up with $25,000 each on the condition the cowboy “made it the biggest thing of it’s kind in the world!”. Guy lived up to his part of the deal…and then some. We present to you the “Big 4” of The Calgary Stampede:
Alfred Ernest Cross (A.E. Cross) was born in Montreal on June 26, 1861 and became a veterinary surgeon. He headed west to the District of Alberta at 22 years old and landed a job as a vet and bookkeeper at the British American Ranch Company (previously called the Cochrane Ranch). Two years later he started his own successful ranch, the a7, on Mosquito Creek, west of Nanton, Alberta.
In 1892, Alfred started a brewery called the Calgary Brewing and Malting Company. He then bought many Alberta hotels, which helped him sell the beer from his brewery. Around town he was known as “The Jolly, Jolly Brewer”. In 1899 he entered politics and became a member of the Legislative Assembly of the District of Alberta representing Calgary-East.
Archibald (Archie) James McLean was born in Aldborough, Ontario on September 25, 1860. His parents were farmers and Archie soon learned a lot about the farming business. Years later he took a job as a ranch hand on the CY Ranch near Taber, in the District of Alberta. He soon became the ranch manager and then part owner and the company went on to export and sell cattle to Great Britain.
In 1909 Archie decided to enter politics and was elected as a Member of the Alberta Legislature for the Lethbridge District, in the province. When the Liberals were defeated in the 1921 elections, his political career ended and he returned to his first love by leasing a large area of land near Fort Macleod to start his own ranch.
George Lane was born on March 6, 1856 in Booneville, Iowa and at age 16 he followed his dad to Montana to search for gold. In his twenties he learned the ranching industry and moved to the District of Alberta in 1884 where he became a foreman at the Bar U Ranch south of Calgary. George soon earned the respect of other cowboys and ranchers. He left the Bar U Ranch about 3 years later. Then in 1902 he and his partners returned and bought the huge ranch, which today is a Parks Canada National Historic Site .
Even though George was an expert in buying and selling cattle, he didn’t hesitate expanding his livestock business to include a herd of majestic Percheron work horses. George realized the new settlers would require thousands of them for plowing land and other farm activities. Additionally, George would travel to France and buy the best of the breed, which allowed him to win show competitions in Western Canada and the USA. The Prince of Wales came to the Bar U Ranch for a visit in 1919 and he was so impressed that he bought the ranch next door with George Lane’s help.
Senator Patrick Burns was born in Victoria County, Ontario in 1855, he was the 4th of 11 children. Patrick, with his older brother, John Burns, left home and took a homestead in 1878 in Minnedosa, near Winnipeg, Manitoba. He worked on a railway gang and as a cowboy to earn extra money. He managed to obtain contracts across western Canada to supply meat to railroad construction camps. In 1890 Patrick made his way to Calgary where he built his first slaughterhouse.
Senator Patrick Burns became known as the “Cattle King” and it’s not hard to see why. At one time his cattle empire stretched 450,000 acres from Cochrane south to the American border! He also, started or bought over 100 retail meat shops in the provinces of Alberta and BC. He established 65 creameries and cheese factories and 18 wholesale fruit houses.
Finally, to celebrate his 75th birthday, a huge cake was baked that fed 15,000 people. In 2008, Senator Patrick Burns was voted “Alberta’s Greatest Citizen”.
By: Rob Lennard