Alta. 4-H club celebrates 100th anniversary

The East Lacombe Beef 4-H Club is still going strong after 100 years; it is the longest running active 4-H club In Alberta

LACOMBE, Alta. — The East Lacombe Beef 4-H Club will mark its 100th anniversary on June 15, making it the oldest active, continuously running 4-H club in Alberta.

Annette Zuidhof, an organizer of the centennial celebration, says the event should prove to be a sort of homecoming for some.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing old friends and reminiscing over 4-H memories.”

Initially formed as the Lacombe Boys Breeding Club, the organization was started in 1919 by Joe Biglands, a respected mixed farmer from Alberta’s Spruce Ville district. He raised purebred Shorthorn cattle and grew award-winning grains.

In the early days, the boys raised heifers, focusing on judging, show fitting and care. Later, steers were added.

In 1929, the name of the organization was changed to Lacombe Junior Calf Club and it welcomed both boys and girls.

In the early years, the leader bought all calves for the club. To ensure uniformity, they bought all one breed but changed breeds each year.

A finished animal would weigh 700 to 750 pounds. Until the early 1960s, the calves were all British breeds but then the exotic breeds began to appear.

Today finished steers, selected by members themselves, generally weigh about 1,250 lb. by sale day.

One highlight from years past was the opportunity to attend the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. Teams progressed through levels with winners going on to Toronto. In the mid 1930s, the Lacombe Calf Club was the only club in Canada to win the National Judging Competition for three consecutive years. One of those winners was Edward Chessor, whose relatives are actively involved in the club today.

Robert Sharp was the Lacombe Junior Calf Club grand champion in 1948. | East Lacombe Beef 4-H Club: 90 Years photo

The scope of 4-H awards today goes well beyond the Royal Winter Fair, such as the Western National Round-Up livestock judging competition that current member Julie Sharp attended this past January in Denver, Colorado.

“The quality of livestock we judged were some of the best in the world,” she said. “It definitely intimidated our team a bit but it was really cool to compete at such a high level.”

Sharp’s team finished fourth in the beef component.

In 1952, boys and girls clubs were changed to 4-H and were supervised by the provincial agriculture department.

Harold Solick, a leader between 1987-95, said he found working with kids a great experience.

“I was never in 4-H as a kid so the motto Learn To Do By Doing applied to us as well. We also learned how to run meetings and organize events.”

Public speaking is a valuable life skill and synonymous with 4-H.

“Public speaking builds confidence and prepares members for real life,” said former club member and current assistant leader Ken Chessor.

He pointed to his son, who went from being a shy child to emcee at his graduation ceremony of more than 1,000 people.

For a few years, the East Lacombe Beef 4-H Club was split into two clubs, East Lacombe A and East Lacombe B because of strong membership. This created some good natured rivalry.

Ted Bennett won club champion steer in 1983 in his first year in 4-H. | East Lacombe Beef 4-H Club: 90 Years photo

In the early 2000s, the club name was changed temporarily to East Lacombe Multi 4-H Club and included a horse project, which ran for two years.

Chessor said that through 4-H exchanges and conferences, his family has travelled throughout Western Canada, to the East Coast and down into the United States. Closer to home they’ve developed a love of curling from the yearly 4-H bonspiels.

Former member Riley Sharp spent 10 years in 4-H. Currently studying agriculture at Guelph University in Ontario, Sharp plans to pursue a career in the beef industry.

“I’ve realized the importance of youth in farming and continuing to build up the agriculture industry,” she said. “I’m proud of carrying on the wonderful tradition of 4-H. It was something special I shared with my parents, grandparents and cousins. 4-H always brought the family together in a way no other program could.”

For Chessor, the Sharp family, who are cousins, and every 4-H member, Achievement Day marks the highlight of the year.

While the excitement and business of the day is the same as in years past, sale prices have changed. In 1949, the grand champion steer sold for 60 cents per lb. Prices in 2018 were in the $3 per lb. range.

Despite the pride and the monetary payoff, there is a downside

“Most years it was still difficult to let go of the calf whether it won or not,” said Chessor.

While he’s proud to count family members as winners of grand and reserve champion steer titles over the years, he says it’s about more than that.

“4-H is about building better humans. It’s about working hard together and being a part of the success of the club, the show and each other. 4-H teaches the value of community and what can be accomplished when people pull together.”

A history book, East Lacombe Beef 4-H Club — 100 Years, will be available at the June celebration.

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