So Long and Thanks for All the Sheep

Posted On Tuesday July 28, 2020

Fort Saskatchewan’s Shepherds Retire to Greener Pastures

For twenty-eight years, Kathy and Ralph Playdon’s flock of Finnsheep have been an essential part of a Fort Saskatchewan summer. This year, however, marks the last year City residents will see the Brightbank Finnsheep shepherds and their woolly lawnmowers in the City of Fort Saskatchewan. The Playdons are retiring as the City’s Sheep Grazing Program contractors in September and will be greatly missed by residents and tourists alike.

The Sheep Grazing Program was the idea of Park Foreman, Don Siemens, who pitched it as a creative and eco-friendly method for taking care of turf maintenance on the old Gaol grounds and the Canadian Northern Railway Station. At its inception in 1992, 400 to 450 sheep grazed over 150 acres, but as the area around the old gaol and railway station developed, the City adapted the program into a tourist attraction and reduced the flock to fifty sheep. Today, the sheep, shepherds, and sheepdogs receive over 100 visitors a day and participate in a number of special events.

Sheep grazing photograph. Copyright Rosemarie Garvey, 1993.
Sheep grazing photograph. Copyright Rosemarie Garvey, 1993.

The Playdon’s leave with fond memories of their time in the Fort, where they have met people from all over the world. They will miss seeing the joy experienced by visitors and their reactions to the first time feeding the friendly, curious, and hungry sheep.

The warmest memories they have are of watching all the children interact with the sheep. “No money can buy the smiles the sheep put on those kids’ faces. A few really stand out as life long memories. A couple have grown into adult friends and many now bring their children to see the sheep,” said Ralph Playdon.

Sheep Leaving Parade photograph from the Fort Heritage Precinct Collection. Copyright S. Benoit 2004.
Sheep Leaving Parade photograph from the Fort Heritage Precinct Collection. Copyright S. Benoit, 2004.

The City will be holding a celebration for the Playdons in the fall to thank them for their role in developing the Sheep Grazing Program and being an important part of making our community a great place to live and visit.

If you are interested in becoming the next shepherd for the City of Fort Saskatchewan’s Sheep Grazing Program or know someone who would be great fit, please visit fortsask.ca/sheep.