Cochrane: nature-loving community of funky folks in harmony

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 9, 2015

Stoney Nakoda Chief Walking Buffalo is one of six honoured on lamppost banners for their contribution to Cochrane’s heritage. Photo by Warren Harbeck

At sunset recently I was walking through historic downtown Cochrane when I encountered a familiar image in a new light.

It was the steel banner of the late Stoney Nakoda Chief Walking Buffalo (George McLean, 1871–1967), one of a series of six such banners alternating on lampposts along our town’s main thoroughfares to honour our priceless heritage.

Designed by town staff, community members and consultants Bond Creative, and manufactured by Little Monkey Metalworks, the banners were unveiled two years ago at the Centre Avenue opening.

They feature, in addition to Walking Buffalo’s, images representative of industry, pioneering women, ranching, rodeo and, yes, the namesake of our town, Senator Matthew Henry Cochrane.

Senator Cochrane was an industrialist, livestock breeder and politician who established the Cochrane Ranche in 1881. (For details on these images, visit the town’s website at

Well, for that sunset moment with the image of my Stoney language and culture mentor Walking Buffalo, I just had to reach for my smartphone and grab a shot (attached).

When, some days later, I was at Coffee Traders sipping my morning brew with my songwriter Santa-look-alike buddy from Calgary, Leo Peters, I shared the photo of Walking Buffalo with him and told him some of the stories about this globetrotting goodwill ambassador’s endeavours in sharing a message of forgiveness and goodwill.

Of course, I also had to tell him about the wonderful ways in which Walking Buffalo made my family and me feel right at home in his own community when we moved to Morley in 1965. (See my column for May 16, 2007 about Walking Buffalo’s vision for all peoples living in harmony.)

Leo is quite a fan of our community. In my column for Oct. 13, 2010, I quoted him as saying: “Cochrane is such a quiet change from the crazy pace of Calgary. It is filled with wonderful people and colourful characters that you write about every week.” (And of course, Leo himself is one of those “colourful characters” that remind us of the privilege that is ours to live in this part of the Bow valley.)

It turned out that at the very moment I sat down at Coffee Traders’ fireside table with Leo, he’d been working on another of his love songs. And it just happened to be about his love affair with our town. He showed me a draft of it, and I really liked it. After he polished it up at home, he sent me the finished song, along with permission for me to quote from it in part here:

By the time you get to Cochrane
Where the funky people stay –
With hearts of gold and stories told
You meet them every day –

Below the Rocky Mountains
In a valley strong in song –
Just down from Mackay's Ice Cream
Coffee Traders – coffee strong –

Cochrane – the town's amazing
Fields of cattle all are grazing
Friendly people everywhere
Full of love who really care
Hanging baskets full of flowers
Songbirds singing by the hours
Cochrane – the amazing town –
Cochrane – the amazing

A few days later I met with Rebecka Freels. She’s a member of our town’s communications team preparing for the end-of-summer opening of the new Riverfront Park and its nature trails.

She wondered what life among the Stoney community had taught me about such nature-sensitive experiences.

I immediately took out my photo of the town’s lamppost banner of Walking Buffalo and shared with her some of his wise words about “Nature’s University.” I told her how he’d point to the beauty of harmony among the diversity of plants in the forest as an example of how people should get along, too. It’s what good community is all about.

Yes, she agreed, that’s very much what Riverfront Park is all about. Even in our increasingly hectic environment, she said, “one can find peace in parks” as we sit among the trees by the river in the company of, as Leo so beautifully puts it, “songbirds singing” and “friendly people . . . full of love who really care.”

© 2015 Warren Harbeck

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