“If you build it, they will come,” is the famous line from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams.
The same rings true for The R6 Ranch. One can’t help but see the clear similarities of Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella in the movie and R6 owner Fiona Mactaggart.
Costner’s passion was baseball, whereas Mactaggart’s passion is ranching, though both used their desire to build something for others.
Both were consumed and driven by a force greater than themselves to create something that hasn’t yet been done. The movie doesn’t explicitly identify healing as the goal of building a baseball diamond in the Iowan cornfields, but Mactaggart’s Albertan ranch – hugged with mountains and sky – is a real incarnation of that same goal: to heal.
“I grew up in Edmonton and I'm really a city girl,” says Mactaggart. “I'm not a rancher at all, but I always had this desire to work with horses and raise natural fed grass cattle.”
Mactaggart got her first job on a ranch in Montana when she was 19 years old.
“I was so excited and just about a few weeks before I was heading out to Montana, the owner of the ranch phoned me and said she didn’t need me. She said ‘you're green, you're a city girl.’ I was devastated and called my mom who said, ‘don't you dare take no for an answer. Tell her you'll work for free for a whole month, do whatever she wants you to do. And, after a month if she can't use you anymore, then you'll leave.’”
Things worked out and Mactaggart stayed at the ranch the entire summer. It was there where she was gifted her first cowboy hat (because she didn’t have one) by the foreman named Floyd, who believed in her. She still wears that hat more than 30 years later.
Mactaggart went on to work on other ranches in Canada, the United States and Australia. During the winter, she worked at Lake Louise where she met her husband Kevin Collison. The two settled down in Banff and started their family. Her ranch life faded, but her dream never stopped.
“I remember always thinking, ‘How can I get back to being a rancher and being a cowgirl,’ because that was what I really wanted to do.”
On her way back from a friend’s ranch in Nanton, she saw the for sale sign on the Rafter Six Ranch on the highway.
“I'll never forget – my heart did a flip and for a while, it just seemed absolutely impossible, but I thought, ‘Maybe I can make this opportunity to do something that I've always wanted to do, and maybe this is also an opportunity to somehow give back in a way to do some good.’”
Mactaggart was able to buy Rafter Six out of bankruptcy. Although the ranch was different from what she was used to and she wasn’t going to be driving cattle, she felt connected to the area and came to realize what her true calling was – to help others.
“I've been an incredibly lucky person,” says Mactaggart. “I have had a blessed life – I guess that's another part of my truth – and I've always wanted to give back in some capacity because I've been given so much. The R6’s ultimate goal is to support youth and young adults who are making every effort to get their lives back on track after a slip so to speak. We are here to provide a safe place for healing and support youth as they successfully transition to adulthood and become contributing, happy members of society.”
Six long hard years later of tribulations, sweat and tears that dream is becoming a reality. R6 has already partnered with and is running programs with Hope Mission, Mountain Muskox, Spirit North, Cristin Geestman with Natural Journey and Outward Bound. R6 is in the development stages of a partnership with The Duke of Edinburgh-Youth Resiliency Project (YRP) and Trellis, the organization that offers Youth Transition to Adulthood (YTA). R6 is in talks to include the Alberta Association of Firefighters, Rocky Mountain Adaptive and The Mustard Seed.
“We are stewards of this land. It is so stunning and it should be shared,” says Mactaggart, while standing on the cliff overlooking the Kananaskis River. “I have come here so many times to say, ‘Don't give up, keep going. You know, you can do it.’ I feel like many people have been here before me to seek, and receive inspiration or strength to carry on from this spot.”
Being outdoors is therapeutic to everyone, especially those whose lives are hectic and feel unsafe. The ranch spans more than 32 hectares (80 acres) that range from open pastures, to gardens and to wooded areas. They have revitalized many of the existing, historic structures to accommodate the new programs and partnerships. R6 land is adjacent to the Kananaskis River, where R6 intends to run paddling programs that “help individuals realize the importance of protecting our beautiful spaces,” says Mactaggart.
“We provide a place where at-risk, vulnerable, fragile youth can participate and engage with each other, nature and animals as a team. Sometimes it's hard. Sometimes it's not and the weather is beautiful. Sometimes it's cold and miserable, but the work still has to be done,” says Mactaggart. “What you get from this work is a sense of pride, self-esteem and accomplishment. Maybe you've never experienced tenderness or love, or care from your caregivers before and suddenly you have to care for a warm sentient being like a horse whose health and wellbeing is dependent upon you. That's how you learn to love and nurture and be kind when maybe that's not what you've come from.”
For now, Mactaggart is figuring out how the funding to support all these programs will work.
“I can't tell you the number of phone calls we're getting people reaching out saying, ‘how can we collaborate? How can we partner? How do you fund that?’ So the idea has always been to keep the lights on by engaging in business in a way that helps support the philanthropic side of things,” says Mactaggart.
Mactaggart’s enthusiasm for R6 is infectious. As the ranch grows so does her grand vision, something that is nothing short of inspiring.
“I would love to think that one day this ranch will become a place where people who really want to embrace that sort of ranching culture and learn the skills that go with it like moving cattle and working outside – skills that are being lost and not celebrated, often misunderstood by city people – could come here and practice those skills, while healing simultaneously.”