A Legacy on Alberta Land

A Legacy on Alberta Land

For John Cross, giving back is a family tradition

By Nathan Kunz • Photography by Jared Sych

For more than a century, the Cross family has called A7 Ranche home. Throughout that time, the ranch west of Nanton, Alta., has weathered change in the industry, province and world. Today A7 is run by John Cross, and he says, for his family, uncertainty is nothing new.

“There’s a heritage of change in my family,” he says, adding that his grandfather, Alfred Earnest (A.E.) Cross, moved to Alberta to become a rancher in 1884 — a big transition from his former life as a veterinary surgeon in Montreal.

With a family tree deeply rooted in Alberta history, John owns and operates one of the oldest ranches in Canada still in the hands of the original owners.

A7 Ranche was founded by A.E. Cross in 1886. It was named for the signature A7 brand A.E. used to mark his cattle, which was a nod to his six siblings. A.E. went on to establish the Calgary Brewing and Malting Company and served as an MLA for East Calgary. He later became one of the four cattlemen known as the Big Four, who founded the Calgary Stampede in 1912.

In 1899, A.E. married John’s grandmother, Helen (Nell) Macleod, daughter of Colonel James Macleod. Colonel Macleod was head of the original North- West Mounted Police (now the RCMP), and his influence can be seen throughout Alberta, from laying the foundations of law in Western Canada, to Macleod Trail and Fort Macleod’s names, to Calgary’s name, which he helped choose in 1876.

John’s father was one of 20 founding donors who each contributed $5,000, a visionary gift that spearheaded the growth of the Calgary Foundation to more than $1 billion in assets over six decades later. To recognize her husband’s dedication and contributions to Alberta health care, John’s mother, Eleanor, continued the family’s generous legacy by creating the John & Eleanor A7 Ranche Fund at the Calgary Foundation in 1991.

Since 2018, the John & Eleanor A7 Ranche Fund has supported the High River District Health Care Foundation operating in High River, Nanton and the surrounding rural communities. The Fund has helped purchase new equipment, improve patient care, enhance community programs and deliver better health care to the communities it serves.

Over the past few decades, several Calgary and area health organizations have been supported through this Fund, just as Eleanor wished. “It’s a pretty good feeling to know that you’re a part of making things a little better,” says John.

John continues the tradition of doing things differently at the A7 Ranche by looking to the past. The cattle graze on healthy grass and the philosophy of providing a low-stress life for all livestock — with gentle moves from field to field and calm handling in the corrals — creates a mutual respect between John’s team and the cattle. The more natural approach also benefits the land and the surrounding ecosystem.

As he looks to the future and the prospect of handing ownership of A7 to his daughters, John says he’s proud to have contributed to the family story, both on the ranch and through the Fund.