North of the Border: FC Canada Tour

Farm Collector tour group dives into Canadian agriculture, history and culture during summer visit to sites in Alberta and Manitoba.

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by Leslie C. McManus
This 1911 Reeves Canadian Special two-cylinder cross-compound steam engine was one of many handsome displays at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin.

Eager to meet our northern neighbors – and leave sweltering temperatures behind – a group of 32 travelers with Farm Collector Tours arrived in Calgary on July 19, 2023. For the next eight days, the group took in varied Alberta sites, capping off the tour with a day at the Manitoba Threshermen’s Reunion & Stampede near Winnipeg before heading home.

From the first night – dining in a revolving restaurant atop a downtown Calgary tower – to the final day, when we dropped in on a renowned tractor show and rodeo, members of the Farm Collector group enjoyed the warm hospitality of our Canadian friends. Tour highlights included:

July 19: Calgary, Alberta

Calgary was the starting point, and members of the group flew and drove in from various points in the U.S. and Canada. That evening, our welcome dinner was held at the Calgary Tower, a 623-foot tower in the heart of the city. Travelers enjoyed a display showcasing similar towers all over the world (and shared notes on who had seen which) and fabulous views of the city and the Rocky Mountains as the sun set.

Calgary is the largest city in the western Canadian province of Alberta and the third-largest city in Canada. Steeped in the western culture of the prairie and home to the Calgary Stampede, it owes its rapid growth to its status as the center of Canada’s oil industry.

July 20: Drumheller, Alberta

Setting out in our motorcoach, we headed toward our first stop of the tour: the otherworldly Horseshoe Canyon badlands. From that remarkable geologic site, we continued to Drumheller, home to the largest dinosaur found in the world and widely known as the dinosaur capital of Canada.

Also, in Drumheller, we dropped in on the Homestead Antique Museum. Among other treasures showcasing early farm and home life were a Canadian-built single-wheel-drive Sunshine combine and a Holt combine with pickup attachment. Pieces in a loosely controlled storage area drew particular interest among a few who found an opportunity for a closer look.

We made an unscheduled visit to the World Famous Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta, for a look at one-of-a-kind gopher dioramas. Next stop: The Layden family farm (established 1898), where we enjoyed seeing an iconic Canadian prairie site – bright yellow canola fields in full bloom. The Laydens raise peas, wheat, barley, and canola, but the canola shines the brightest, blazing with color, for nearly three weeks every summer. We sampled peas in the field; the crop will be dried and shipped to India and Asia.

In the late afternoon, the mercury rose to about 85 degrees. The locals apologized profusely for “this awful heat.”

July 21: Lacombe to Wetaskiwin, Alberta

Everyone on the tour was familiar with farm equipment dealerships, but few, if any, had seen anything like the Alberta Harvest Centre, part of the Pentagon Farm Supplies network, in Lacombe. Initially owned by a five-member partnership, the state-of-the-art, five-sided building showcased an uncommon commitment to advanced technology and efficiency.

Specializing in the CLAAS brand, the Harvest Centre hosts a very popular Fendt Field Days event each summer. The event had ended just before our visit, but immaculately restored showcase Fendt and Allis-Chalmers tractors remained on the showroom floor. Soon, they would be restored to “storage” – each hanging on a bracket on the building’s concrete walls.

Our next stop: the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin. Housing the collection built by businessman Stanley George Reynolds, the museum is home to a stunning array of agricultural, industrial and transportation-related equipment and machinery, much of it very highly restored.

Located on a 219-acre property, the museum includes the main museum building, an aviation display hangar and storage facility. Storage areas at the museum were less accessible to the group’s super sleuths, who made do with pieces abandoned to storage in an adjacent field.

July 22: Leduc, Alberta

Because of the pandemic, the Leduc West Antique Society held no summer shows in 2021 or 2022. When the curtain rose on the 2023 show, members of the Farm Collector group were the first visitors on the grounds, and it would be hard to imagine any group receiving a warmer welcome.

Held at the park-like Alberta Heritage Exposition Park, the show featured displays of commercial trucks, antique tractor pulls, parades, and extensive inside displays of model trucks, Rolls Royce automobiles, Caterpillar equipment, and more.

A Canadian-built Sawyer-Massey steam engine was put through its paces, the blacksmith was busy at the forge, and demonstrations were held at the sawmill. An Esso service station display, historic buildings relocated to the park, and an exhibit put on by the American Historic Truck Society – as well as free train rides – rounded out the offering.

Demonstrating something akin to a sixth sense, several in the Farm Collector group sniffed out the show’s boneyard and persuaded shuttle drivers to take them to those far corners of the grounds.

July 23: Lake Louise, Alberta

A day marked by a fair amount of windshield time gave the group a chance to rest up. On our way into the mountains, we traveled on the Icefields Parkway, with stops for photos at the scenic Peyto and Bow Lakes, crown jewels of Banff National Park. By late afternoon, we’d arrived at the incomparably beautiful Lake Louise. All enjoyed our brief stay in the mountains and the opportunity to watch the sunset in a postcard-like view.

July 24: Banff, Alberta

After breakfast, we were back on the coach, bound for Banff. The group was turned loose downtown, where each went on their own to investigate shops and museums, like the Banff Park Museum. Opened in 1903, the facility is one of Western Canada’s oldest natural history museums. Showcasing the unique Federal architectural style of the day, the museum illustrated the way in which natural history was interpreted in Canada during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

In the afternoon, we took a gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain for a look at the Canadian Rockies. While some stretched their legs on a boardwalk leading to Sanson’s Peak nearby, others checked out displays and exhibits.

In the late afternoon, smoke from wildfires crept in around the mountains. It was a short-lived phenomenon, and the group was never in danger, but the experience gave tour members a keen appreciation for what many in Canada had been contending with for months.

July 25: Calgary, Alberta

Much of the day was spent visiting Heritage Park, a historical park located on 127 acres of parkland on the banks of the Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary. Canada’s largest living history experience, Heritage Park, encompasses a Town Centre, fairgrounds, natural resources, heritage plaza, rail yard, an agricultural area, and a pioneer settlement.

Everything at the park helped visitors travel back in time. From costumed employees to carefully preserved and furnished historic structures, everything at Heritage Park celebrated the past. The Gasoline Alley Museum, packed with immaculately restored antique cars and a vast collection of gleaming neon and porcelain signs, was a particular hit with the Farm Collector group.

July 26: Cardston, Alberta

The Remington Carriage Museum – said to be the largest museum of its kind in the world – was this day’s destination. Featuring interactive displays, horses, a working restoration shop, carriages, wagons and sleighs, the museum tells the story of horse-drawn transportation in North America.

Staff at the restoration shop restore pieces for private owners and the museum. “The focus is on preserving the piece, not restoring it,” says Restoration Technician Jeremy Masterson. “You always lose something in a restoration. You’re erasing that vehicle’s history.”

Located in Cardston, Alberta, the museum is just 15 miles from the U.S. border. Cardston is also the home of George Woolf (the prize-winning jockey who rode Seabiscuit to victories in 1938, including the epic battle against War Admiral) and Fay Wray (who screamed her way to fame in the 1933 film King Kong).

July 27: Nanton, Alberta

A century ago, some 5,000 grain elevators were scattered across Alberta. Today, most have fallen victim to fire and progress. The Farm Collector group was fortunate to visit a survivor in Nanton, Alberta. Preserved by the Canadian Grain Elevator Society, a trio of elevators there tell a nearly forgotten story of harvest a century ago.

Built in 1927-’29, the three elevators remained in use until about 2000. At one point, Nanton was home to nine elevators. Elevators served three purposes, explained volunteer John Berger. “They were places where grain could be gathered, stored and shipped,” he says. “One of these elevators probably handled at least 10 different kinds of grain during its lifetime. There was barley, oats, rye, flax, mustard seed, canola, lentils, field peas and several kinds of wheat.”

The elevator’s scales were the length of a horse-drawn wagon. “In snow and ice, they’d put sleigh runners on the wagon,” John said. Boxcars, lined with paper to prevent grain from shaking through gaps, were used up to 1970. John remembers his dad saying that in the 1920s, one-third of a farm’s grain production went to feeding horses. “It was a pretty high energy expense,” he says.

July 28: Austin, Manitoba

The tour ended with a day at the Manitoba Threshermen’s Reunion & Stampede featuring the International Cockshutt Farm Equipment Club. The 2023 summer show included daily parades, field demonstrations featuring horses, steam engines, tractors, plows, and harvest equipment, Homesteaders’ Village, semi-pro rodeo, classic car show, Clydesdale Classic competition, and a threshing competition.

Founded in Brantford, Ontario, in 1877, Cockshutt Farm Equipment Co. was an independent farm equipment manufacturer for more than 85 years. That heritage was showcased in an outstanding display of everything from plows and sickle bar mowers to manure spreaders, tractors and even a combine. Also outstanding: several sheds housing one of the largest collections of antique farm equipment in North America, including several rare pieces.

A display of 23 Massey-Harris and Ferguson combines from the collection of the late Garry Grycki was another unique feature. “Dad looked for combines that had always been shedded,” says his son Wes, who spent most of July readying the display. “He just loved harvest. It was his thing.”

Undeterred by blustery temperatures (the tour group shivered on a cloudy, breezy, 62-degree day while locals roamed the grounds in shorts), intrepid members of the group once again sniffed out remote storage areas where they found still more treasures – creating even more memories of an outstanding Canadian tour to carry home with them the next day. FC

Leslie C. McManus is the senior editor of Farm Collector. Email her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com.

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