The life and legacy of a young rancher who died while fighting a wildfire is being celebrated with an award that honours his passion and stewardship.
James Hargrave, a fifth-generation rancher from Walsh and a volunteer firefighter, was just 34 when he died. On Oct. 17, 2017, he was helping to fight the massive Hilda grass fire, which burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed several homes. Hargrave lost control of the water-tanker truck he was driving and collided with a second vehicle. Left to mourn were wife Elizabeth; children Hudson, Alec, Savannah and Isabelle; and a host of friends and admirers.
“He was very involved in the beef industry,” said Lindsye Dunbar, manager of the Western Stock Growers’ Association and executive director of the James Hargrave Legacy Foundation.
“He was just such an incredible person.”
Hargrave was the stock growers’ vice-president and chair of the Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association, and his family has been operating the same ranch for more than 130 years.
“They had a long time on the land, with a long history of grassland stewardship,” said Dunbar. “His predecessors were just like him in terms of taking care of the land and stewarding the grass. James used to say the grassland was in him.”
After his passing, friends and colleagues began talking about how to preserve the legacy of a man who had done so much for the grazing and cattle sectors.
“A beef producer came up to me at James’ funeral and said, ‘He was so young, and he did so much for the industry. Can you imagine what he could have done if we had 50 more years of him?’” recalled Dunbar.
“And that really is what the foundation is about, to keep a little bit of that passion and drive that James brought to the industry, and to keep it alive.”
Initially, the fund was just going to be under the Western Stock Growers’ umbrella, but the initiative expanded as the organizers realized how extensive Hargrave’s influence on the beef industry had been.
The legacy fund is now an incorporated society and board members are working to have it recognized as a full-fledged charity. Donations from dozens of individuals and groups mean it is able to offer an annual award of $3,000 to support others who exemplify the kind of person Hargrave was.
“Because of James’ influence and because of the kind of person he was, the number of donations didn’t surprise me,” said Dunbar. “We miss him every day, at every meeting.”
The foundation’s board is looking to award money for projects or people who would align with Hargrave’s passions and interests.
“Someone passionate about the beef industry, water conservation, grassland stewardship, and ecosystem goods and services. We want to support people who have that drive, so that the whole beef industry would benefit.
“We are accepting applications right now and are looking for people with James’ spirit.”
People of all ages are encouraged to apply, she added.
“You don’t have to be young. We’re just looking to support projects or initiatives or anybody who is working in the area of grassland stewardship and management, water conservation, ecosystem goods and services, and policy to support any of those things, as well as intergenerational knowledge transfer and success.
“These are all the big things that James would rant about.”
Last year, the foundation awarded $3,000 to Chancey Guichon, a young rancher from Strathmore, who had just finished his agribusiness diploma at Olds College and is beginning to create a succession plan with his family. Only two people applied for the award last year.
“We are always looking for more,” said Dunbar.
Applicants must write an essay on why they, or their project, fit the criteria.
“We’ve committed to a $3,000 annual award with the caveat that if the board decides that there is more than one worthy applicant then we can award it more than once in a year,” said Dunbar. “If there are no worthy applicants, then the board doesn’t have to award it.”
The application deadline is Aug. 15, and applicants should be informed of the board’s decision by the end of August.
The application form is available at jameshargravelegacy.com. The website also has details on how to make a donation.