Determination, vision…and Grace

By Helen Row Toews

September 13, 2017 4:25 PM

Back in the 60s, expected roles for women were much different than they are today.
Very few could say they ran a thriving cattle enterprise back then, let alone claim to have been instrumental in bringing a new breed called Charolais into Canada.
However, I know of one who can. This woman and her husband built and maintained the family farm together, but his interests weren’t in cattle – hers were.
While he went on to run a gravel hauling company, she took charge of the livestock and did a remarkable job of it.
It was her grit and determination that saw the venture through, her knowledge of, and passion for animals that set her feet travelling down this path, and her business acumen that put their name on the map as one of the first Charolais breeders in the country.
Despite a life threatening and lengthy bout of rheumatic fever, and chronic rheumatoid arthritis, she overcame all to raise a family of four and not only manage a successful breeding-stock operation, but eventually become a fine artist to boot. Her name is Grace Allen.
Grace grew up on a farm SW of Blackfoot where her father raised Shorthorn cattle.
After the sale of a 4H steer, she wisely invested her earnings into a heifer who gave birth to a pure white calf. Happily, this day coincided with Grace’s 15th birthday and ultimately fired up her interest in the snowy Charolais.
Together with her husband Wilmer, and another local farmer, they imported Domino from France, one of the first bulls of this breed to set foot in the country.
Also during that time, in 1962, they became founding members of the Charolais Association.
Thus began her illustrious career as not only a pioneer in this venture – but a female one at that.
With one of her characteristic, infectious chuckles, Grace reminisced over one incident that took place during these years.
One day, leaving a newly acquired and feisty two year old bull safely penned up in a corral, she turned her attention to other chores around the yard.
Suddenly the air was filled with frenzied bawling. Checking the corral, she realized the young bull had broken out and disappeared.
Hurriedly Grace leapt into Old Betsy (her trusty truck) and sped to where she knew Domino and the cows were out at pasture.
A scene of complete mayhem met her eyes as she witnessed the two bulls waging war over the fence.
They’d ripped out a quarter mile of barbed wire and were still going strong!
Realizing what a serious situation this was, and that there was little she could physically do to stop them, Grace impulsively gunned the motor and roared towards the enraged beasts.
Slowing slightly, she took aim and hit the young bull broadside, knocking him flat.
Laughingly Grace recalled, “He wasn’t hurt, but when he got up and caught his breath he forgot all about fighting. Of course, Wilmer wasn’t too pleased when he saw Old Betsy’s front end.”
Over the years, Grace worked tirelessly to build her purebred herd, facing adversity that appeared in many forms; drought, personal illness, and sometimes opposition from men in a male dominated industry.
“I guess men thought, because I was a woman, I wouldn’t know much about cattle, or business.”
But, Grace knew her stuff; she soon set them straight and earned their respect.
After 42 years raising, showing and selling purebred cattle, Grace sold her last bull in 2002 and at the age of 67, turned to embrace the next chapter of her life. Scenes depicting the changing mood of our western provinces materialized in paintings throughout her home and community, and images of the animals she loved were tenderly sketched, then captured in living colour on her canvas.
The Midwest Canadian Artists group was formed in Lloydminster around that time and she became a member. “I always liked drawing as a child,” Grace said with a smile of pleasure, gazing at an array of beautiful oil paintings lining the walls of her sitting room. Never having received formal instruction, she started attending workshops here in Lloydminster and in Invermere, B.C. to hone her craft in earnest.
“At first it was hard to get the creative, right side of my brain to work again after so many years using my left, practical side for business,” she admitted with a shrug, “but I persevered.”
Not one to shrink away from a challenge, Grace did just that, and applied her strength of mind to this new endeavour which remains a vital part of her life to this day.
Her work is displayed in the Lloydminster Legacy Center and at various art exhibitions in the area as well as in B.C.
Grace is living proof that hard work, determination and a positive outlook can take you far.
She’s overcome much and achieved many goals in her life. At the age of 82 she continues to paint, enjoy her family, her garden and her chosen life on the farm – a pioneer, an inspiration and in my opinion, a truly lovely lady.

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