OWNER, RAWHIDE ADVENTURES AND PEACE VALLEY RANCH
COWBOY, CATTLE RANCHER, HONORARY JAMAICAN
“We have this unique situation where people from 2017 come out here, and we try to put them back into Canada as it was, with no cell phones and no video games, and kids who have to walk into the bush and actually have to do things. Happy 150th, Canada.”
So how long have you been up there, the ranch and all?
Are you from Canada? Because your accent…
Well there is much speculation about that…
Really? What’s the speculation?
(Laughs) The truth is, I was born in Germany. The speculation: I took these ladies on a ride for four hours and by God I tried everything in the book to get them to engage and enjoy the beauty out there. They did not engage on any level. Finally one lady asked me, Crusty where are you from (Crusty is my trail boss name), and I said, well, ma’am, I was born in Jamaica. And that was it! The story has now grown, I have a half brother that I played soccer with that I have a picture of. I learned all about Jamaica.
If you think I am not going to print this, you are out of your mind. Apart from being from Jamaica, Germany, you were one of the people who started the whole anti-mega-quarry movement, some ten years ago. (In the mid-2000s, an American conglomerate introduced plans for what, originally presented as a potato farm, would become a 2,316-acre limestone quarry in Melancthon township near Orangeville, Ontario.)
Well, I was one of the initial ten. You know, first two people talked to two people and then there was four…
I am on the east side of all those potato lands. Potato guys and cattle ranchers don’t have a lot in common. So in 2006 and 2007, a few of us got together and realized it needed to be elevated because the proposal was so drastic.
What was at risk?
The first thing that the communities started talking about was how the conglomeration had bought so much land, 6500 acres of class 1 farmland. They planned to hook it up with the old abandoned railway. And if you look on paper, all this has nothing to do with potato farming. So that piqued the curiosity.
Then someone dropped a note in my mailbox, probably from the US, on how this same company chose to advertise to their investors on this purchase. They chose Melancthon township because they are the second smallest community in southern Ontario, and the Ontario regulatory and legislative environment for resource extraction was the weakest in North America. This is what they circulated to their investors. One of them must have had a conscience, and sent them around the community.
The issue then really became why the aggregate resources act allows this sort of predatory stuff. And there was enough public interest in that conversation that the government agreed to review and rewrite that legislation, and they are in that process now.
You have so much going on: the Angus beef, the ranch, the horses. What do you see next in terms of bringing more people to the area to increase tourism?
As a business we just want to get better at what we do, and don’t really want to grow in that sense. We put quite a few people through here every year and that seems to work well for everybody because you can lend individual attention. We give people attention and do private rides. You can’t get that anywhere else. The B&B brings people out here and the Bruce Trail brings people out here. It works really well.
And you also do the sleeping under the stars…
We supply tents, but we find that mostly people want to sleep outside and see the stars, hear the crickets. Being out there by the fire, horses around you rustling around is just something people don’t get to see anymore this close to the city.
I guess that by 9pm, you’re dead tired?
Well, up there not as much because it’s still daylight, the fire is always interesting and the horses are moving around… some of them are running around free so they come and look at you. It is engaging that way. People are much harder to get out of bed than to get into bed.
Does doing all this make you feel like a kid again?
People after 40 years ask me why are you still doing this, and I say why the hell wouldn’t I be doing this? I get to do for a living what other people pay for. I am a lucky, lucky man.
Were you brought up on a farm? Tell me how you became Crusty.
Truth be told, I was brought up with too many John Wayne movies in my formative years. I thought that was just too crazy: the guy could get into a fist fight in a bar — win, of course — and then pick up his fallen comrade and buy him a beer. And I thought, that is just a great way to grow up.
So i went to cowboy school in Hessy Creek, BC, and learned I was completely addicted to horses and cows, and everything we have done since then has been trying to reflect that western authenticity. So I started here in ’75, but just needed to figure out how to make a living on the sand and stones and rocks we were sitting on.
One thing I have seen from your suite of businesses, and other rural businesses, is that you really have to diversify.
Cows have ups and downs money-wise. We got hit by the tornado in 1985 and for the next 15 years it was just trying to rebuild and recover from what that did. You couldn’t build a future for you and your kids on the back of cows, as risky as they are.
So Rawhide adventures is a contributor to being able to stay here, as is the B&B and the whole tourism picture. We also run 120 Angus cows and market grass-fed beef.
What’s so good about grass-fed beef?
Think about it: beef was never really ever meant to eat grain. Having the right Angus genetics as we do, and keeping the grass to them and harvesting the calves after only the good grass summer of July, it puts out a really good product and people just go on and on about it. There are all kinds of health reasons to do it. People need to enjoy the flavours and that’s what matters.
We were certified way back in 1987, and have had this alternate thinking all our life about manure and cows, not working our land, watching erosion make the most use of water and all that other stuff. Now we have spent 40 years trying to figure out how to have the least impact we can and still make a living.
Agriculture, farming… it’s a risky life.
It is a really strange connection. Agricultural people complain that just 2% of the population engage in it and the other 98% make all the rules and don’t understand. And we are here, and we introduce hundreds of people every year to help understand where we all come from and why this country is so important.
It was always assumed the kids would take over the farm. You can’t assume that anymore, can you?
No you can’t, because it is such an expensive proposition to get started, which makes succession planning a real careful deal. You don’t want them to have to redo all the debt coverage you had to do, and it is becoming such a sophisticated industry. Even our cows all carry electronic ear tags and new scanners and all that stuff to log genetic history. It is amazing.
Speaking of technology, if I am coming to your beautiful B&B… is there any wifi?
Well there is. For adults we have no choice but to offer it. But the inference is to go put on a country music CD, and enjoy some space and quiet and the woodstove.