I have worked as a « wwoofer » (an unpaid work in exchange of bed and board, and above all in exchange of being part of the life of hosts), in a beef farm, near Nanton, Alberta. Trail’s End is run by Rachel and Tyler Herbert. Rachel is a descendant of Edith Ings, one of the many women who moved West in the early 20th century. With her husband, Fred, she worked the Midway Ranch near Nanton. In 1936, Fred died, leaving Edith and their two daughters to run the ranch at the height of the Depression. Unwilling to lose her beloved ranch, Edith turned her grazing land into the Trail’s End Dude Ranch. She and her daughters found success hosting travelers seeking a western-theme holiday. This bold move kept the ranch and grazing lands in the family.
Four generations later, Rachel and her family are still ranching in the Nanton area. They run the Trail’s End Ranch using some of the traditional land her great grandparents worked on. She respects her family’s long heritage by being committed to responsible animal and environmental stewardship.
The case of Rachel is far from being an isolated case in the West of Canada and United States. Many women moved West with their families to become farmers or ranchers in the early 20th century.
Heirs or not of one of these courageous pioneers, the women we meet in these areas are incredibly strong. They are not afraid of holding a hammer all day long to build fences, or driving a pickup truck with a livestock trailer. However they haven’t lost anything about their femininity, even if they wear dresses with cowboy boots ! And it looks so nice on them ! They are wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, they work hard, wearing a dazzling, shining smile full of life and pride.
Women and men of the western community, all these farmers and ranchers, cowboys and cowgirls, are proud of their heritage, and they try above all to protect their country life.
Day by day, they brave a harsh climat (which doesn’t care about transitions !), to carry out their physically demanding tasks, many of them have to get a second job to provide for the farm and their family… and all this with a smile ! I do not say that they smile all the time, but no matter how difficult it may be, they smile because they have chosen their way of life.
Rachel wrote me « This is such a good life, I feel blessed everyday, but it isn't an easy one. Tyler and I need to gather our energy for everything we do ».
The cowboy, that guy wearing blue jeans, checkered shirt, cowboy boots and cowboy hat, that guy who checks fences and herds every day on horseback, who listens to country music while sipping a beer after a long hard day… That guy is not a myth, a folkloric attraction for tourists raised with « Western » movies. No, that guy is real, he is the farmer we meet everywhere in the countryside of Alberta, Saskatchewan, or West and Middle West of United States. He is a part of this reality, the country life, chosen and worth fighting for.
« You have to want it, you have to be determined… and work hard every day », Ryan Dirteater, a Bull Rider, talks about Bull Riding, but he also might have been talking about the farmer’s life.
Bull Riding is a dangerous sport. This is 8 seconds of pure adrenaline, 8 seconds of total void, this is the Life felt with every fiber of their body, like in all extreme sports. But this is also getting their hands dirty, working hard every day no matter the weather, facing their fears, falling down, again and again, but always getting up, always fighting, never giving up… Ranching, farming, Bull Riding, far for being only a job or a sport, to them this is a way of life.
The President of the Okotoks Pro Rodeo, Renne Reidy, wrote me, « our western heritage needs to be preserved, so valuable, and not enough said about it anymore. Keep that thought… I think it’s great that you want to promote rodeo and the western way of life ».
I have met amazing people, wearing their heart on their sleeve. I have discovered a world, that is not perfect like any other. But this world is the result of the choice and the will of women and men, a world built far from the stress of the big cities, far from the masses, who are just content to survive, and forget being alive really means. For that, this world is fascinating to me.
I have only touched the surface of this world, but I really hope that soon I will have the opportunity to get to know it better…