Funeral for Spruce Meadows co-founder to be held in his show jumping 'cathedral'

CALGARY -- A funeral is to be held in a riding arena today for a prominent Alberta businessman who co-founded one of the world's top equestrian venues.

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Ron Southern died last week at the age of 85.

He established the Spruce Meadows show-jumping facility in Calgary with his wife Margaret in 1975. The facility held its first competition a year later.

Spruce Meadows has become a fixture for the world's best riders and horses. The equestrian world's governing body has dubbed the facility the world's top show-jumping venue multiple times. It marked its 40th anniversary in 2015.

"It's Mr. Southern's cathedral. It's where he spent countless hours welcoming people from around the world, teaching them about his world of the horse," said Spruce Meadows spokesman Ian Allison.

"It's where he spent virtually every Saturday and Sunday morning over the last 40 years."

Southern and his father also started the Atco Group (TSX:ACO.X) in 1947. It was first known as the Alberta Trailer Company and grew from a 15-trailer operation to an international conglomerate with interests ranging from construction trailers to pipelines to natural gas distribution.

It has a presence in more than 100 countries, employs 8,000 people and has $19 billion in assets. Southern served as its president for 48 years.

Southern was also the founder and controlling shareholder of Akita Drilling (TSX:ATK.A).

Forbes business magazine pegged Southern's net worth at $1.5 billion last year.

Despite his show-jumping legacy, Southern didn't get on a horse very often, said Allison.

"He was more of a student of everything about the horse sports, whether it be breeding, training competition, tournament organization and corporate sponsorships," Allison said.

"As in everything he did, he completely immersed himself in it."

Ian Millar, an Olympic and Pan American Games medallist from Perth, Ont., has credited the Southerns and Spruce Meadows for making Canada a force in the sport of show jumping.


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