At least 140 ranching families are trying to get their saddles back after Ranchman’s Cookhouse and Dancehall closed this month and the Bank of Montreal (BMO) seized the property.
The saddles were loaned to the honky-tonk by cowboys and rodeo stars over the years in exchange for food and bar tabs, and were often prized family heirlooms.
The tradition stretched back decades, started around 1977 by the late world champion calf-roper, Jim Gladstone.
But after the bar went into receivership, Gladstone’s son, Zakary, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday that BMO had seized the bar’s assets — and with it, the memorabilia that includes his father’s saddle.
“Nothing in there that was a trophy belonged to the bar. Like, they were all from other people,” Zakary said.
Jim Gladstone was a legendary cowboy who grew up on the Blood Reserve just north of Cardston, Alta.
The three-time Canadian calf-roping champion was also the first Canadian to win a timed event when he was awarded the National Finals Rodeo roping title in 1977.
“He paved the way for other First Nations cowboys to go out and do, you know, do the things that they want to do, and do the things that they love to do,” Zakary said.
The saddle that Zakary is trying to retrieve was used when his father won the world champion title in 1977.
It was also used to barter the deal at Ranchman’s, which Jim struck with his good friend Harris Dvorkin, the bar’s original co-founder.
“[Jim] walked into Ranchman’s and he brought his world champion saddle,” Zakary said.
“He placed it at [Dvorkin]’s feet and he said, ‘I want to have no line, no cover, VIP events,’ stuff like that.”
In exchange, Jim said Ranchman’s could display the saddle for free — but under the condition that the cowboy could take the saddle back whenever he needed to.
Over the years, the tradition grew until trophies and memorabilia lined the walls and rafters.
Jim Gladstone and Harris Dvorkin passed away in 2015 and 2017, respectively.
Zakary says the two had shaken on an agreement that he would oversee the trophy donor program at Ranchman’s.
“These saddles … mean so much to my people, and they mean so much to me and my family,” Zakary said.
“Because my dad was the only one to ever do that … of his background. He was the only one to ever do that.”
This summer, when Zakary heard that the bar was in trouble after the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the Calgary Stampede, he said that texts, calls and messages went unanswered as he unsuccessfully tried to get his father’s saddle back.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’d love to get in and get my saddles out. You know, I heard some things, and I just want to get them out before anything happens,'” Zakary said.
Then Ranchman’s went into receivership, Zakary said, and the bank stepped in and claimed the memorabilia.
In an emailed statement to CBC News, BMO wrote that while this is an ongoing legal matter, it recognizes the importance of this memorabilia to the community.
The bank has now decided to release all its seized items, including saddles and trophies, which remain on the premises.
“All inquiries related to these memorabilia items are being directed by BMO to the landlord of the establishment for further handling,” BMO wrote in an emailed statement.
Zakary says that while it’s better for him to not have to go through the bank legally to get his saddle back, he is still concerned.
“The first time I tried to get my saddle out prior to them closing down, I contacted Doug Rasberry (the owner) two weeks before, a week before, half a week before. And nothing happened,” he said.
“So I don’t know if that’s good news or bad.”
Zakary says he will only be relieved once he receives a call from someone connected to Ranchman’s telling him he can pick up his saddle.
With files from Natalie Valleau and the Calgary Eyeopener.
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