Business

Valley Auction celebrates 50 years

Brothers Don (left) and Peter Raffan continue to guide Spallumcheen’s Valley Auction through tough times. The company celebrates it’s 50th birthday this month. - Roger Knox/Morning Star
Brothers Don (left) and Peter Raffan continue to guide Spallumcheen’s Valley Auction through tough times. The company celebrates it’s 50th birthday this month.
— image credit: Roger Knox/Morning Star

You don’t stay in business 50 years without building a good reputation.

And for Spallumcheen’s Valley Auction, which celebrates its 50th birthday this month, its reputation continues to grow.

Valley Auction was recently named winner of the Canadian Angus Association’s Auction Market of the Year, which was presented at the Livestock Market Association of Canada annual convention in Calgary.

The Spallumcheen auction market won for its work promoting Angus and Angus-cross cattle.

“Well, the timing was perfect with this being our 50th year. It’s a great honour, very prestigious,” smiled Don Raffan, 59, in his office at Valley Auction adjacent to Highway 97A beside Tolko. Raffan operates the business along with younger brother, Peter, 47.

Cattle have always been the main focus of Valley Auction.

It started that way when Raffan’s father, Jim, and partner Bill Tompson bought Spallumcheen Auction in July 1963.

The pair changed the business’ name to Valley Auction in 1964.

A new 9,100-square foot building was built on the current location in 1979 and officially opened Jan. 3, 1980.

The company sold a then-record 31,260 cattle in 1988, and have sold as many as 58,000 head in a year.

“We once had 2,200 head at a calf sale that went until three in the morning, and the last of  the cattle sold for higher than the first cow sold,” laughed Peter.

Added Don: “One time we had more than 20 cattle trucks lined up in a row to pick up the cattle. It was a beautiful sight and we stayed until we loaded the very last cow.”

The Raffans say the period from 1980 to 2002 was the heyday for the company, selling thousands of heads of cattle and herds of horses.

The new building opened in 1980 was built three times larger than the original metal building (which is still on site) to facilitate the crowds, which were always overflowing.

A seat in the auction arena couldn’t be found, nor could a spot in Valley Auction’s parking lot.

Cars and trucks were lined up and down Highway 97A for a sale day.

Things began to change for the company and the auction business in 2003, the year the U.S. closed its border to Canadian beef.

The days of selling 175 to 200 head of cattle a week are gone. In 2012, Valley Auction sold 13,000 head of cattle.

“We’re just starting to see the repercussions of that border closure now,” said Don. “It’s had a huge effect on our business. We’ve lost so many producers and small farms. Where people wanted to have cattle once, now they don’t want them.”

“The last couple of years have been demoralizing, and that includes talking with other people in the industry,” said Peter.

Still, the Raffans and Valley Auction persevere.

The company that has produced four Canadian and world champion auctioneers (the Raffans, Keith Dinwoodie, Rod Burnett) sells horses, poultry, produce, machinery and conduct on-site farm auctions.

There are two Thursday sales this summer, July 18 and Aug. 22, featuring farm and garden sales at 9 a.m., goats, hogs and sheep at 10:30 a.m. and cattle at 11 a.m.

There are five-full time staff members, and the number swells to between 25 and 35 on sale days.

And that includes Margaret Raffan, 86, Don and Peter’s mom.

“She comes every sale day,” said Don.

“She was part of the business until my dad passed away in 1984. She takes the customers coffee, puts the sheets in, helps the girls in the office. Everybody loves to see her.”

And everybody, it seems, still loves Valley Auction.

The Raffans get good wishes from former Armstrong-Spallumcheen residents when they’re conducting sales in Alberta or Saskatchewan, or people from the Prairies will pop into a sale at Valley Auction and say they saw the Raffans plying their trade in their neck of the woods.

The Douglas Lake Ranch – Canada’s oldest operating ranch located west of Westwold – and the Chilco Ranch west of Williams Lake, both privately owned, sell their cattle through Valley Auction.

“We have very loyal customers locally, and loyal customers who come from a long way away,” said Peter.

“I still get excited to go and sell. That’s the fun part of the job.”

Said Don: “We’re people-people. We love people. Our customers and us all know each other and from generation to generation we have done business together.”

 

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