Order buying was the dream job

For 44 years, Harvey Bourassa loved every minute of every day that he went to work at the Fort-Macleod Highwood Auction Company which, in 2000, was renamed The Auction Company Ltd.

Looking back, Bourassa quit school at the age of 14 since he thought he already knew everything he needed to make his way in the world. Growing up on the family farm along with eight siblings, he already had a school bag full of life lessons that would carry him along a path that, when he looks back, he wouldn’t change a single step.

After working at various jobs in the area, he spent seven winters working for a local feedlot operator and cattle buyer by the name of Gene Chivilo. In the summer, he worked for Chivilo one day a week and filled in the rest of the work week either at the local elevator or digging irrigation ditches for the PFRA to name just a few of the jobs. But he always knew that someday he would become a cattle order buyer just like Chivilo.

In 1957, at the age of 27 he married Kaye Chester (a local farm gal) but his dream job was put on hold when his father had a heart attack and the young couple had to take over the family farm. He always said, “I liked the lifestyle, but I didn’t like farming”.

He continued to farm, but his heart was in the cattle business. When the Fort Macleod-Highwood Auction Company Ltd. opened in 1960, he was first in line for an off farm job. He was hired as the yard foreman and from 1961 until 1973, he worked every sale day and during the fall run.

When the auction market sales arena burned down in 1974, he jumped at the chance to sell the farm and invest along with partners Ken Hurlburt (founder of the market) and fellow employee Bob Dyck and others to rebuild the auction complex.

In 1975, Bourassa was finally handed his dream job as head of the order buying division for the auction market. A job he held until his retirement in 1998.

Bourassa sleeps well at night knowing that he held the trust of so many great cattle producers.

“I bought most of the cattle in the ring and my customers trusted me with their cheque books,”he says.

“My parents taught me at a young age not to touch anything that wasn’t mine. Anyone should be able to leave 10 cents on a dresser in the bedroom and have it still there a month later –two months later and so on. I never forgot that lesson and I’ve followed it every day of my life.”

As an order buyer, Bourassa moved cattle to the feedlot of his customer’s choice and kept watch over many of them until they were sold. Sometimes his customers never knew the cattle had sold until they received the cheque in the mail.

“I made sure that every customer got a detailed list of the costs for the feeders right down to the penny. I had other customers that relied on me to sort and sell their fat cattle. I had four Hutterite Colonies on my customer list and I’d go out and sort the loads and they never asked the price,”he says with obvious pride in his voice.

“Early in my career I shipped a lot of cattle east by train. I remember shipping 84 loads of cattle east in one month and another month sent 57 loads south. But it sometimes took up to a week for delivery to eastern Canada and as their feeding industry grew and more trucks were used to transport cattle, my eastern customer base dried up.”

Developing a cattle eye

Bourassa shies away from talking about how he learned to sort out a good one. Instead he offers this advice to would-be buyers. “If you’re looking to buy replacement heifers for instance, look at the female that comes into the ring and if she looks good at first glance –buy her. If she doesn’t look good at first glance –she’s never going to look good,”he chuckles.

“I hate to keep comparing feeder cattle to women. But for me picking out a good looking gal on the beach was never difficult.”

For years, Bourassa bought Limousin cross show cattle for customers that showed pens of five heifers and steers at the Calgary Stampede. Over a ten-year period they racked up 17 firsts and seconds.

“If a group of Limos came into the ring and I was interested in a few of them the auctioneer gave me the option to pluck them out as long as I was willing to pay a premium. My customers wanted the best genetics I could find and they were willing to pay for them,”remembers Bourassa.

Finding good cattle for his customers was one thing, but traveling the province to judge 4-H shows was another. Everyone knows that come show day there were only two people happy when he left the ring. One was the owner of the Grand Champion and the other was owner of the Reserve Champion.

“I remember judging a 4-H show at Carstairs where they must have had over 100 show calves, and a lot of them were Simmental. When I gave my reasons, I flat out told the kids that their steers were exceptional but because of the size, they would be discounted on the market,”he says.

“One calf that day looked like he still had a nut in him and I dropped him down. But when I was challenged by the kid’s dad, I didn’t back down. I told him I called it like I saw it.”

Bourassa had already learned that lesson when he bought calves for a regular customer one fall. There were 11 calves in the ring and he asked the auctioneer to remove the one calf which looked like he still had a testicle. But the owner was in the stands and protested saying there was no possibility of that. Bourassa took him at his word but later got a call from his customer saying why did you buy me 10 steers and one bull? Oops!

Harvey and Kaye had two daughters losing the three-year old daughter to cancer. While in the hospital, with her, the couple developed a love for a tiny baby boy lying in the next hospital bed. To their great delight they were able to adopt him a short time later and then added one more girl of their own.   

By the lengthy list of Harvey’s community involvement, it’s obvious that he didn’t spend all his time at the auction market. In fact sometimes, it was a toss-up between the cattle and his love for curling. 

Bourassa took his turn on many executive positions throughout the community such as: Knights of Columbus, life member and chairman of the Cattlemen’s Curling Association, life member of the Southern Alberta Curling Association, 50 year pin from the Elks Club, chair of the Holy Cross Parish Council, long time 4-H leader and judge, nominated for his work with seniors and in 2011 he was named Fort Macleod’s Citizen of the Year.

In May of 2014, Harvey lost his beloved wife Kaye after 57 years of marriage. But his family decided it was time to celebrate something happy and pulled out all the stops for Harvey’s 85th birthday party in 2015. Over 200 friends and relatives packed the hall and Harvey says it turned out to be more of a roast than a birthday party; tongue in cheek of course.

Since Kaye’s passing Bourassa has realized that the dishwasher doesn’t fill itself and dinner doesn’t arrive on the table by magic. He can produce two dinners – spaghetti and meat sauce and beef stew.

He still curls twice a week and spends most mornings down at the local coffee shop with a group of buddies. He says now that he has more time on his hands he is able to offer solutions for local, provincial and federal problems and if time permits, the boys may turn their attention to international issues.

Just last week he talked with a fellow feedlot operator who said, “You wouldn’t believe the prices this year. I cleared $695 per head out of one pen of cattle. We’ve finally rode her up –I just hope we don’t have to ride back down again.”

Harvey says he’s proud of his kids and his accomplishments. His love of the cattle business gave him a life well lived. To this day, he says, “It all began with mom and dad’s lesson that if it’s not your dime –don’t touch it”.



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