Ron D. Southern, founder and Co-Chairman of Calgary’s world-renowned Spruce Meadows equestrian facility, and iconic Alberta entrepreneur and businessman, passed away January 21, 2016. He was 85.
In 1971, Ron Southern and his wife Margaret purchased a feedlot south of Calgary from Copithorne Ranch, with the vision of establishing a world-class equestrian facility. In the spring of 1975 they brought their vision to life with the opening of Spruce Meadows. The show jumping facility quickly became not only Canada’s premier riding venue, but was also recognized internationally.
Spruce Meadows was built for their two daughters, Nancy and Linda, who were actively involved in the sport. Over the past 40 years, as a result of the leadership and vision of the Southern family, Spruce Meadows has become an iconic sports venue that is today recognised as one of the world’s leading venues for international and national jumping competitions, hosting 300 events annually.
Ron Southern at the Masters tournament in 2011. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
Southern entered the business world in 1947, when he and his father, Donald Southern, started Alberta Trailer Company, which offered trailers for rent in Calgary. The small company, which became ATCO Group, steadily morphed into an international conglomerate specializing in logistics, energy, and operations in utilities. Southern served as ATCO’s president for 48 years, but played a key role in leading the company for six decades. Today, the company employs close to 8,000 people, and has an estimated worth of $19 billion. A true leader and entrepreneur, Southern also founded AKITA Drilling Ltd., a spin-off of ATCO Group, which went public in 1993.
Marg & Ron Southern
Ron Southern’s achievements were recognized both in Canada and internationally. He was a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and in 1986 he received Canada’s highest civilian honour when he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.
Southern was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1990, in recognition of his promotion of Anglo-Canadian relations in the fields of commerce, culture and sport. In 2003, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Companion in 2006. He received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, as well as an Alberta Order of Excellence. Both Ron and Marg Ron Southern were jointly-inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, in the Builder for Equestrian Sport in Canada category.
Spruce Meadows is one of the top showjumping venues in the world, and attracts the world’s best riders to compete, including Olympic gold medallist Eric Lamaze with Hickstead, shown competing at the Masters tournament in 2010. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
“It is with great sadness that we learnt of Ron Southern’s passing,” FEI President Ingmar De Vos said. “He was truly a remarkable man with a tremendous capacity for life and an incredible love of equestrian sport. His business acumen, passion, drive and vision, were evident in all facets of his life and were the characteristics that made Spruce Meadows such a hugely successful venue.”
“When I worked in the Horse Program at Spruce Meadows over ten years ago, it was always a treat when Mr. Southern came around the barns,” says April D. Ray of Canadian Horse Journal. “He had a way of making you feel like you were an important part of the team, and really took the time to speak to you about the horse you were on and how things were going. I was devastated to hear of his passing, but find solace in knowing that he will live on forever at Spruce Meadows, in what he and Marg have created there.”
Aerial photo of Spruce Meadows show jumping facility. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
Ron Southern is survived by his wife Margaret Southern and their daughters Nancy Southern, and Linda Southern-Heathcott.
A public service to honour Southern’s remarkable life is being planned for the last week of January, 2016 at Spruce Meadows.
“Going far beyond the call of duty. Doing more than others expect. This is what excellence is all about.
It comes from striving for and maintaining the highest standards, looking after the smallest detail and going the extra mile.
Excellence means caring. It means making a special effort to do more.” ~ R.D. Southern