Don Taylor's $15 million gift connects community with western heritage
Don Taylor, Calgary entrepreneur and philanthropist, is donating $15 million to the Calgary Stampede Foundation to create the SAM Centre, a western interpretive centre that transforms the traditional museum setting into a story-based educational experience that will be a central piece to the future Youth Campus on Stampede Park. The SAM Centre is named for Taylor’s father, Robert Samuel Taylor.
“The Stampede has a commitment to education and teaching, and hopefully it will be teaching the heritage of our province,” said Taylor. “I hope the museum would be a display of the struggle and effort that has gone into making southern Alberta southern Alberta. Rodeo, farm life—everything.”
Taylor’s own family story reflects the very pioneering, persevering spirit the SAM will honour. In 1937, Taylor moved to Calgary at the age of two when debt and drought pushed his family off of their farm. His father worked in the oil fields bailing oil, then for a moving company before returning to farming; his mother opened up a boarding house where Taylor grew up.
As a kid, Taylor admired legendary cowboys like Freckles Brown and Casey Tibbs whose risk-taking, boundary-breaking attitudes led them to be (respectively) the oldest man in ProRodeo history to win a championship title and the World All-Around Rodeo Champion title twice.
After graduating from the University of Alberta with an engineering degree, Taylor worked for Canadian Western Natural Gas Company before taking on a struggling Engineered Air. Today, Engineered Air’s annual sales are $200 million with cumulative sales exceeding $2 billion.
As the ranching way of life that defined Taylor’s family and early southern Alberta rapidly disappears, Taylor feels it’s essential to preserve this history and pass it on the next generation.
Through the Stampede archives, permanent and temporary galleries and classrooms, the SAM will tell the stories of the Stampede and southern Alberta while connecting urban and rural audiences.
“We have many heroes in Canada and most of us know very little about them. Some of those heroes are cowboys and ranchers and pioneers of southern Alberta, and I think it’s a fitting thing to pay tribute to them,” said Taylor.
At the confluence of the Elbow and Bow Rivers, sitting on the northern edge of Stampede Park, surrounded by open green space and the historic Rundle Ruins, the SAM Centre is a unique, distinctly Calgarian educational setting. Visitors and students will have the chance to explore different themes as the galleries change, such as the use of technology in agriculture or the history of aboriginal influence.
“The SAM Centre ties all of the educational pieces of Stampede Park—from Stampede School to The Young Canadians to 4-H—back to a common theme,” said Warren Connell, vice-president, park development. “The SAM will celebrate all of these pieces and what they mean to Alberta.”
In addition to the youth education and development programs that already exist on Stampede Park, the SAM Centre will invite the entire community to come and participate. Local artists will have a platform to educate youth and teachers through art. Physical and digital archives will allow people from all over Alberta and the world to experience what the SAM and the Stampede have to offer.
The SAM Centre and Youth Campus are part of the Stampede’s “We’re Greatest Together” Capital Campaign. A mixture of government, corporate, individual and foundation donations, the money raised in the campaign will fund three major development projects on Stampede Park: the Agrium Western Event Centre, set to open for Stampede 2014, Riverfront Park, scheduled to open in 2015, and Youth Campus, expected to open in 2016.
“There’s magic that happens within our community at Stampede time,” said Sarah Hayes, Stampede Foundation executive director. “The best outcome for the projects of the capital campaign is to create that magic—that community spirit—year-round.”