Historic Rafter Six Ranch demolished by new owners

The former co-owner of the historic Rafter Six Ranch near Exshaw, Alta., watched in horror as demolition on the lodge proceeded Monday.

'We built the lodge with our own hands, did the drawings and built it, and now we are watching it come apart'

The Rafter Six Ranch demolition proceeded Monday as the former owners watched. (Cowley's Rafter Six Ranch/Facebook)

The former co-owner of the historic Rafter Six Ranch near Exshaw, Alta., watched in horror as demolition on the lodge proceeded Monday.

CBC News asked Gloria Cowley how she was feeling after being involved with the property for decades.

"That is easy to say," Cowley explained.

Gloria Cowley, right, says the loss of the Rafter Six Ranch lodge is a loss of Alberta history. (Mike Spenrath/CBC)

"I am feeling very hurt, shocked, at a loss for words in some ways too. I am just so full of emotions.

"We built the lodge with our own hands, did the drawings and built it, and now we are watching it come apart — and for what purpose?" she asked.

Gloria and her husband Stan Cowley learned about the demolition last week when the Municipal District of Bighorn confirmed a permit had been issued to bring many of the buildings down, including the main lodge.

The Cowley's financial troubles began in 2008, when they partnered with a company they hoped could transform their ranch into a five-star resort.

"They said all we had to do was put up our land and our buildings, which we did," Stan Cowley said in 2013.

Demolition of the lodge at the Rafter Six Ranch began Monday. (Mike Spenrath/CBC)

"And we would be 50-per cent owners on it. Unfortunately that's not quite what happened."

Instead, that company tanked, went into receivership, and took the Cowleys and their ranch down with it, he said.

The property was put up for sale in 2012.

"It is so unfortunate, the loss of Alberta heritage," Gloria said Monday.

The Cowley family operated the ranch for 38 years. (Mike Spenrath/CBC)

"For us, we always love people, and horses are what brought us here. Horses are the common denominator for people who are interested in ranch life. We welcomed people from around the world here."

According to the MD of Bighorn, there were no historical designations that would have kept the Rafter Six lodge from being torn down. To date, there has been no application for a new development on the property. 

New horseback riding operation 

The Cowleys now run a horseback riding and camping operation right next to the ranch they once owned.

"Our herd is half the size of what it used to be. We had so many people who wanted to continue to come and ride with us. We set it up in 2014. This is our third season in the new location, and it seems to be working well. A lot of people keep coming," she said.

Gloria said the couple has overcome many challenges in the nearly 40 years of owning the ranch.

"The government wanted to expropriate the land and we had fought through that at that time. We managed to work our way through many challenges," she said.

"This one is just one that we can't work with any more."

With files from CBC's Sarah Lawrynuik, Mike Spenrath and The Canadian Press