In 1956, Thomas Koehler (TK) Biggs, an MIT graduate raised in Chappaqua, New York, moved to Alberta and began TK Ranch. Tom tells many stories of his first trip to the wild prairie that would become his home.
His neighbour Harold Milne met him in Coronation on a very cold February afternoon. That winter the area had received record snowfalls so they set out for the ranch by horse and sleigh. Tom said that they headed south into what seemed like a completely uncharted ocean of snow. No roads, no ditches, no fence posts, no trail. Just snow. After changing teams three times he arrived to a remote farmyard at 11:30 PM that would become TK Ranch. That winter was fiercely cold and the snow hung on until May. Many of the locals considered Tom a real greenhorn and thought he wouldn’t last his first winter. But Tom took it all in stride because he thought all Canadian winters were supposed to be that way.
Soon after Tom got settled he met and married Mary Hallet, daughter of local pioneer Jack Hallet. Mary had been raised in true pioneer fashion where she hauled water for washing, canned thousands of jars of vegetables, fruit, chicken, beef and pork every year, cooked scratch meals on a wood stove and appreciated a well broke horse. Her ability to quickly adapt to living on TK Ranch helped Tom become an established rancher in the area. They worked side by side to create not only a home for their children, but a solid foundation for TK Ranch to thrive. Tom and Mary raised five children — Ralph, Dylan, Andrea, John and David. Over the years they instilled a love and respect for the wild prairie in their children. Tom had an open mind about alternative ways of managing the land that enhanced the grasslands and biodiversity. Mary was an artist and outspoken advocate for the wild prairie and captured the spirituality of the land in her beautiful artwork that she sold all over the world.
In addition to ranching, Tom was committed to representing rural Alberta in matters of health. He became the chairman of the Big Country Health Unit in 1969 and maintained this position for 20 years. He became involved with the Alberta Hospital Association in 1971 and sat as their President in 1979. His commitment to the health of Albertans was recognized as he was asked to serve as a lay councilor of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1979 where he served for 15 years. Tom served as a Board Trustee for the Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, a member of the Provincial Health Council of Alberta and a member of the Alberta Labour Relations Board. He has held many other positions, too many to list, always making it clear he was from rural Alberta.
Tom and Mary’s second son, Dylan, was born to be a rancher. Growing up on TK Ranch he was always keen to learn from his father and grandfather and was involved in all aspects of the ranch. After attending Olds College and the University of Lethbridge Dylan returned to TK Ranch which allowed Tom to focus more attention on his health related activities. In 1985 Dylan was introduced to Holistic Management — a goal-oriented decision-making model that is based on environmental, social and financial sustainability. The Center for Holistic Management, founded by Allan Savory (Holistic Management International), was one of the first organizations that advocated making decisions with a triple bottom line: essentially that a person couldn’t make a sound decision based on dollars only — that the environmental and social consequences of that decision also had to be considered equally. Dylan became very involved with Holistic Management and was one of the first people to promote it to producers in Canada as a sustainable approach to land management. In 1990 Dylan was invited to speak about holistic management at a Nature Trust of Alberta meeting and that is where he met Colleen Nelson, his future wife.
Dylan and Colleen made a good match — Colleen was an active member of the environmental community in Alberta — sitting on the boards of both the Alberta Wilderness Association and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. She had attended the University of Alberta and graduated with a degree in Recreation Administration — what is an Environmental Sciences degree today. Holistic management intrigued Colleen as she had studied integrated resource management (managing pieces of an ecosystem in isolation of each other) and the problems it created for managing wilderness and wildlife. Meeting a rancher dedicated to increasing the biodiversity of the endangered Northern Fescue Grasslands, to organic production and to animal welfare made her decision to move to TK Ranch an easy one.
Dylan and Colleen settled on an old homestead on the south end of TK Ranch and began building a life together. They have four daughters — Jocelyn, Julia, Maria and Hannah. Jocelyn is actively involved in TK Ranch and happily deals with customers, fills orders and makes deliveries. Julia is keen to raise happy pigs and has aspirations of becoming a niche artisan baker;, Maria is interested in alternative health and beauty and plans to work with her Uncle John at Optimum Health Vitamins in Edmonton and Hannah is content to be a teenager and help on the ranch.
Sadly Mary passed away in 2006, but her love of the prairie lives on. A large stone cairn is planned in memory of her hard work and dedication to TK Ranch. It will be built on a hill surrounded by the prairie she loved. Tom retired at 81, but is still an integral part of TK Ranch. He can still be found feeding cows, cutting hay and trying to beat his granddaughters at playing cards.