Ron Southern, who founded Spruce Meadows and ATCO Ltd., has died.

Southern and his family opened Spruce Meadows in 1975. It has become an internationally-recognized venue for show jumping.

Alberta-based ATCO Group is a $19-billion business with nearly 8,000 employees. It is involved in building modular structures and delivering natural gas and electricity.

Ron Southern

Ron Southern, founder of ATCO and Spruce Meadows, died on Thursday. (www.sprucemeadows.com)

Southern was chairman of the board until 2012 and continued on as a director.

He's received the Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1995, Companion of the Order of Canada and the Alberta Order of Excellence.

Southern was 85.

"Mr. Southern was a great Calgarian," said Murray Sigler, executive director and CEO of Sport Calgary, in a release.

"And he was a lifelong champion for sport in our city. He will be sorely missed. On behalf of everyone involved in sport, we extend our deepest condolences to his family."

Roy Whitney, Chief of the Tsuut'ina First Nation, said Southern backed up his words with actions.

Ron Southern

Ron Southern "did not just talk about respect for First Nations people — he demonstrated it," said Tsuut'ina First Nation Chief Roy Whitney. (Submitted by Spruce Meadows)

"This is a day where I choose to reflect with fondness and respect on a man who built so many things, created deep lifelong and personal friendships with the people he touched, and who did not just talk about respect for First Nations people — he demonstrated it," Whitney said in a statement.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Southern is a true community builder.

Ron Southern

An undated photo of Ron Southern. (Submitted by Spruce Meadows)

It is because of Ron's vision for Spruce Meadows more than 40 years ago that we as Calgarians are lucky enough to enjoy this iconic venue," Nenshi said.

"And Spruce is only one example of the extraordinary work of Ron and his family. Their legacy is felt here every day and we will remember Ron with deep gratitude." 

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Southern will be sorely missed.

"Ron's many endeavours created Alberta jobs, contributed to our pride and made Alberta a show-jumping destination," Notley said.

"We are forever grateful for his vision, his generosity and his shining example of community support."