The behemoth that is Spruce Meadows opened on April 13, 1975, with its iconic Masters Tournament launching in 1976. The dream of business legend Ron Southern and his beloved wife Margaret was for Spruce Meadows to be a global leader in the sport and to build a base that allowed Canadians to be successful internationally. “I do believe we have been successful in that. Canada punches above its weight at international events,” says Linda Heathcott, president/CEO of Spruce Meadows, who represented Team Canada at the 1996 Olympics and is the daughter of the Southerns. “You can’t talk about Spruce without Ron and Marg. RD was the visionary, but Marg was the one who put the pieces together, building the venue and welcoming people with grace and elegance. She was a wonderful host.”

Together, Ron and Marg proved unstoppable. By 1979, Spruce Meadows’ annual attendance reached 50,000, a record unheard of for a show jumping event. Currently, the venue plays host to approximately 300,000 devoted fans who turn out in droves to watch the best of the best compete in multiple outdoor rings. Spruce Meadows hosts competitions throughout the year, but its five FEI-sanctioned tournaments including four CSI5*s – the ‘National’, ‘Continental’, ‘Pan American’, ‘North American’ – and one CSIO5*, the ‘Masters’, are what draw the big crowds.

Arguably the jewel in the crown is the ‘Masters’ tournament with its Nations’ Cup and the richest individual grand prix prize money, an astounding $3 million in the CP International. The ‘Masters’ has attracted top riders from around the world including Eddie Macken, John and Michael Whitaker, Nick Skelton, Ludger Beerbaum and Canadian legends such as Ian Millar and Big Ben and Eric Lamaze and Hickstead.

Foreseeable Future

“Spruce Meadows is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, so we’re focused on the celebration. Part of that is our trade fair which showcases local products and local vendors to introduce YYC to the global marketplace. New this September is the first World Blacksmith Championships, where 120 farriers will compete for a prize of $50,000. The RCMP Musical Ride will be back for the ‘Masters’. And given it’s an Olympic year, we’re hoping we’ll get some of the best riders again. Our Foundation continues to be a community initiative and we will have a salute to first responders at the ‘National’. We’re also hoping to open a café this year as well.”

Mission Possible

“We just approved a 20-year plan. I see a farmer’s market, the café, a museum, expanding the pond, possibly a hotel and another conference centre.”