Closure spells the end of an era for renowned Rafter Six Ranch

The owners had high hopes for a plan to expand the well-known guest ranch, but it instead led to its demise

A failed expansion plan has put one of Alberta’s best-known guest ranches out of business.

“We’ve always needed more accommodations to look after the economy of scale,” said Stan Cowley, owner of Rafter Six Ranch Resort near Exshaw. “We wanted to expand.”

Rafter Six has a long history of growth at its home in Kananaskis Country. First built in the 1870s as a whiskey trading post, it became a remand centre for the RCMP when “the Mounties pushed out the whiskey traders.”

When the RCMP moved their base closer to Calgary, Rafter Six became a guest ranch, and in 1976, the Cowleys bought the land and “expanded it to what it is today.”

Since then, they have played host to “millions of people” from around the world, growing the lone lodge into a resort with a lodge, guest cabins, dance hall, church, and rodeo grounds.

“We’ve been busy,” said Cowley of the “western hospitality” and activities he offered his guests over a 38-year run.

In 2008, the Cowleys entered into an agreement with a resort developer in Calgary that would expand accommodations at the ranch, leaving the Cowleys as 50/50 owners in the improved resort.

“It wasn’t too long after that, that the lawyers — who were principals in the finance organization and represented everybody, including us — put everything into receivership,” said Cowley.

“We ended up getting nothing at all out of it and are stuck with being no longer in business.”

The future is uncertain for Cowley and his wife, Gloria, who closed the doors on the ranch on Jan. 1. Though the couple has a small acreage and grazing leases for their horses, they will have no revenue stream until they reopen as an outfitter.

“We’ll be going back into the horse business in the spring, of course, but you have to get over the winter,” he said. “There’s quite an expense in horses.”

The Cowleys have set up a fundraiser through Indiegogo, a ‘crowd funding’ website that allows people to donate to causes they support. The couple has asked for help with legal, moving and feed costs, and support has been overwhelming, said Cowley.

“We’ve been getting so many phone calls from all over the world when they’ve heard about it,” said Cowley. “It’s really quite heartwarming to hear the comments that we’re getting from people all around the world.”

The ranch is being held by a trust and its future is not known.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

Comments

explore

Stories from our other publications