When asked what first brought him and his wife together during their college days, Pat O’Connor’s answer is simple: “Partying.”
It seems the party hasn’t stopped since then for Pat and Connie O’Connor. Besides building a 45-year marriage, they’re also the impresarios behind the award-winning Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts, a business encompassing three lodges, a wine shop, four restaurants and a game ranch.
Since buying their first property, the Emerald Lake Lodge, in 1979, the O’Connors have built a reputation for being hands-on with their developments; Connie even puts up the elaborate Christmas displays herself (with the help of some friends).
“From the start, with every property, we’ve been part of the design on the menus, we’ve designed the decor,” she says. “They’re really such a part of us.”
So strong is their attachment to their work that, once demand for game meat from their businesses rose in the ’90s, the pair was determined to find a sustainable, reliable and high-quality source. “It happened to be at a time when we had a major reopening for Buffalo Mountain Lodge,” says Pat. “Because of the name, we wanted to serve game meat, which you couldn’t go and get, because it wasn’t on the market at that time.”
When their son Bradley, a graduate from Olds College who handled the grain-farming side of things at CRMR, proposed they look into the game business themselves, it seemed like a natural fit. So in 1997, on a plot of land south of the city, they established the Canadian Rocky Mountain Ranch, where they raise elk and bison to supply their businesses.
Today, the ranch has 720 acres of fenced pasture, with more than 400 bison and 350 elk roaming its grasslands at any given time. The ranch produces everything from the prime cuts of meat found in their restaurants to the elk antler pills, sausage and jerky sold at the Millarville Farmers’ Market, Second to None Meats and the ranch itself.
Important as they are to the CRMR story, the O’Connors are taking more of a backseat these days, but they won’t be put out to pasture anytime soon.
“We’re definitely pulling back, and our kids are taking more responsibility,” says Connie, “but it’s such a part of our lives, and there are certain things you don’t want to let go.”
Pat and Connie O’Connor’s favourites
Cut of game meat
Pat: Bison rib-eye, anything that can be roasted.
Food and wine pairing
Connie: Pinot noir; it seems to pair well with everything we eat.
Thing about Calgary
Connie: The vibrancy. It’s a youthful, exciting, vibrant city; a lot of people are moving here.
Pat: Close proximity to the mountains.
Both: Hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.
Both: New York City for its great culinary scene.
CRMR restaurants and properties
340 17 Ave. S.W., 403-984-3667, bar-c.ca
2311 4 St. S.W., 403-261-1600, bin905.com
700 Tunnel Mountain Rd., Banff, 403-762-2400, crmr.com
338 17 Ave. S.W., 403-229-1177, crmr.com
Box 54 RR8 Site 5, 403-256-1350, crmr.com
109 Lake Louise Dr., Lake Louise, 403-522-3991, crmr.com
Divino Wine and Cheese Bistro
113 8 Ave. S.W., 403-410-555, crmr.com
20 minutes west of Lake Louise, Field, 250-343-6321, crmr.com
747 Lake Bonavista Dr. S.E., 403-225-3939, lakehousecalgary.com