By Jody MacPherson
Originally appeared in the Calgary Real Estate News, Summer, 1998
(See also this previous article on the King brothers)
The crowd was hushed as auctioneer Bob Dyck made the final call. “Sold! The ranch goes to Bill Bateman and his family for $5,725,000.”
Those were the words that the ranching community in Southern Alberta had been waiting to hear. Anticipation mounted and media coverage reached a frenzied pitch in the weeks proceeding one of the most publicized land sales in recent history.
On the day of the auction, about 1,000 people sat spellbound for two hours as a series of people bid for individual parcels of the land once owned by Harrold and Maurice King, who have become folk heroes because of their eccentric lifestyle.
Then, a second round of bidders made offers on the entire west ranch (approximately 4,000 acres in the Porcupine Hills north of Lundbreck) and the individual parcel bidders withdrew.
Throughout the auction, Harrold and Maurice King smiled crookedly out at the crowd from the canvas of two paintings behind the auctioneer. The artwork was offered for display by artist Terry Bennett for the big day. Most who knew the brothers agreed that if the land had to be sold, Harrold and Maurice would have wanted it kept together.
The spectators crowded into the massive auction market, lining up two or three people deep in “standing room only” conditions to watch the show. In a separate barn next door, another crowd watched the auction on a big screen.
Dyck joked with the crowd that he didn’t know how to say the numbers as he struggled with the unbelievable seven-digit bids and tried to convert them to the familiar chant of the auctioneer. At one point during the bidding, he casually asked the potential buyer to round up his bid from $4,700,000 to an even $5 million. The crowd roared its approval.
“It worked once with a heifer,” he said, slyly.
The auction was a landmark event for the Fort Macleod-Highwood Auction Company and for the beneficiaries of the King estate who chose to auction the property as opposed to selling it privately.
Dyck, who is General Manager of the auction company, said afterwards that he wasn’t surprised by the high price tag that the ranch commanded. “It’s a prime piece of property and we had every reason to believe that it was going to generate a lot of interest.”
Still, he admits that it was a bit nerve-wracking to be calling the numbers with so much at stake. “I was a bit nervous beforehand, but I’ve been in the land auction business for many years and have sold quite a few properties for more than the vendor expected.”
The Fort Macleod-Highwood Auction was started in 1960 by Ken “Daddy” Hurlburt, who is also a former Member of Parliament. Hurlburt is still going strong at close to 70 years of age and entertained the crowd at the King auction with several of his famous long-winded speeches about the beauty of the land. Now, his son Brant and Bob Dyck run the business.
Over the last 20 years, the market has auctioned thousands of acres of land for vendors across Western Canada and received national media coverage more than once for their involvement in the sale of unique and historic properties.
“The auction creates an atmosphere of competition,” Dyck says. “It’s the best way to establish the real market value of a piece of land.”
The auction method offers several advantages over the traditional private sale. One advantage for larger land sales is the ability to consider all bids at the same time, including bids on smaller parcels.
“Splitting it up into parcels on the bigger ranches allows everyone to participate. It also gives the vendor more choice,” says Dyck. “We assemble all the offers in one day and then offer it as a whole. Then you have both avenues open to you at the same time and you can choose. If it’s worth more by the parcel, you go by the parcel. If not, you sell it all together.”
With the King ranch, the parcel bidders were outbid by buyers who were willing to pay for the entire west ranch in one big chunk. The east ranch sold for $600,000 in two parcels to two different buyers.
For a conventional sale, the Fort Macleod-Highwood Auction Company is also partners with Shawn Hansen in Rural Properties Ltd. a small real estate company specializing in the sale of agricultural land. The two companies have brokered hundreds of sales together over the last 15 years and offer a unique combination of services.
“I believe a lot of our success has to do with our affiliation with the Fort Macleod-Highwood Auction Company,” says Hansen. “Those fellows have built quite a reputation over the years.”
So, who better to handle the land sale for two brothers with a reputation, than an auction market with a reputation? On November 1, at least, it seemed like a match made in heaven.