Cor Van Raay and Family
Cor and Christine, the founders of Cor Van Raay Farms, met in a coffee shop in Picture Butte. Cor was employed as a hired hand for a fellow named Slim Buckman. Christine worked in the kitchens at a hospital in Lethbridge. They married on April 20, 1963.
Between the years of 1964 to 1977 Christine and Cor had six children – Kenneth, Brenda, Sandra, Colleen, Michelle, and Darren. Christine had her hands full raising six kids but she managed to devote a lot of volunteer time to church, school and community projects while also doing the farm’s bookkeeping and maintaining farmyards and rental houses. She made decisions regarding the farm and loved to challenge Cor on his decisions.
Meanwhile, Cor was busy driving tractors, feeding cattle and managing the hired hands. He also spent a great deal of time working with different cattle feeding organizations.
In 1964, Cor and Christine Van Raay purchased 320 acres of land from the Molnar family in Iron Springs. They grew grain on this property but also rented land to grow sugar beets. In 1965 the farm struggled financially and basically “went broke”. As a result, Cor spent the winters working in the Fort St. John oil fields and northern saw mills.
The next few years’ crops improved and so did the farm’s financial situation; so much so that in 1972 Cor could build corrals for his first group of cattle. During the 70’s their cattle feeding operations grew and a feed mill was required at what is now known as the “Home Lot”. Cor and Christine continued to grow beets and potatoes, as well as barley and wheat. Christine helped with hoeing beets, driving beet truck and feeding the work crews. Cor started to learn more and more about the cattle feeding business and continued to expand the Home lot feedlot.
Cor pioneered the growth of the fed cattle industry in Alberta by building bigger and better feedlots: the Home lot (15,000 head), the East Lot in 1988 (25,000 head), the North Lot in 1993 (25,000 head), the West Lot in1998 (25,000 head), and finally the Barrhill Lot in 2003 (25,000head). At one point in time the number of cattle in all of the feedlots exceeded 100,000 head with a staff of over 100 employees. Cor’s marketing skills were instrumental in developing a one-on-one relationship with American packers; subsequently starting the trend of large-scale exports of cattle to the United States. During this same period, more and more quarters of land were purchased to accommodate the need to grow silage for the growing number of cattle as well as providing the opportunity to use manure as fertilizer. By 2009 the land base exceeded 100 quarters – over 16,000 acres of mostly irrigated land.
In the early-1980’s, the Van Raay’s diversified their interests when they joined forces with the Paskal family and became part owners in Butte Grain Merchants – a trucking and cattle feeding operation. For several years Cor was also a part owner of a John Deere equipment dealership in Lethbridge called McKay Brothers.
Yet all the growth did not come without its share of controversy and setbacks. Controversy often stemmed from the objection of local residents to the expansion of the feedlots, as the concept of a larger scale cattle farm was an unknown. Despite this concern each feedlot application was approved. In fact, so many other farmers built large feedlots, that the area became unofficially known as “feedlot alley”.
The setbacks came in many different forms. They included anti-dumping lawsuits from United States, Foot and Mouth disease scares and fluctuations in the markets. Most importantly the cattle market saw one of the largest down turns when a Canadian case of BSE was announced in 2003. The United States closed its borders to Canadian beef followed by the closure of international markets. As a result, the farm downsized to as few as 20,000 head on feed and only 30 employees.
To run such an immense operation, the farm required outstanding dedication and cooperation from over 60 year-round employees and by the invaluable contributions from the family of Cor and Christine Van Raay. Christine was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought the cancer and treatment head on but sadly died in August 2005.
Over the last 50 years the farm has gone from flood irrigation to pivots controlled remotely from a central computer. From hoeing beets to using high tech GPS controlled sprayers. From simple hand written records to computerized individual animal tracking, and from Cor’s sole control to the transfer of ownership to his children.
In 2009 a majority of the farm was sold to four of the Van Raay children: Sandra Leith, Colleen Mackey, Michelle Van Raay and Darren Van Raay. The four children managed Cor Van Raay Farms Ltd. (CVRF) until it amalgamated with Paskal Cattle Company in 2015. Darren Van Raay obtained his BSc in Agriculture/Food Business Management from the University of Alberta and is a passionate farmer. He has been instrumental in managing the farmland while Colleen has spent over 20 years working on the business/administrative needs & boards of CVRF and VRP. Michelle and Sandra have successful careers beyond the farm but have always provided insight and support.
After transitioning the farm to the children, Cor started Van Raay Land Inc. and set his sights on Saskatchewan to start a large grain farm near Outlook. With the support of his new partner Julie Perverseff, the Saskatchewan farm has been extremely successful. Cor and Julie have become a part of the Outlook community and enjoy the time they spend in Saskatchewan and the people they have met along the way. The Barton family provide the custom farming support to seed and harvest wheat, canola, barley or lentils on the 35,000 acres located around Outlook.
Cor has been an avid supporter of the southern Alberta and Saskatchewan communities he calls home. A few of the contribution he has made include:
- A $5 million contribution to the Lethbridge Community College/University of Lethbridge Cor Van Raay Southern Alberta Agribusiness Program as well as a separate U of L Faculty of Management Scholarship created in memory for Christine Van Raay
- Donations to the Chinook Regional Hospital & St. Michael’s Health Centre, Helen Schuler Nature Centre, Lethbridge Food Bank, Outlook Saskatchewan community pool, and numerous other local charities
- Several donations over the years to the Lethbridge YMCA with a more recent and specific $3.75 million donation to support the ongoing maintenance of the new West Lethbridge Cor Van Raay YMCA.
Cor has been honoured by the community with an honorary Doctorate degree from the University of Lethbridge. He is a Queens Diamond Jubilee recipient, an inductee in the Alberta Agriculture Hall of Fame, and awarded member of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association. .