A chef with an idea. A carpenter with the tools. This is the story of how several Calgary Stampede employee teams came together to create one, amazing gingerbread ranch.

“I approached executive chef Derek Dale with the idea to build a gingerbread house and that’s how the ball got rolling; and then it snowballed!” Sherry Palkhivala, Calgary Stampede chef, said with a laugh.

Employees from the Food & Beverage and the Park & Facilities departments came together to share ideas and brainstorm ways to make a gingerbread version of the Calgary Stampede OH Ranch come to life.

The gingerbread ranch, as inspired by the Calgary Stampede OH Ranch

The main barn at the Calgary Stampede OH Ranch (top) and the gingerbread version (bottom)

“Having a base structure helps so that the structure doesn’t fall when transporting a piece as large as this,” Palkhivala explained, “especially when there are so many parts that make up the total look.”

This is how John O’Neil, carpenter, was brought into the project.

“It was a fun collaboration,” O’Neil shared, “and so was seeing how the project progressed throughout the stages.”

Underneath the delectable gingerbread ranch is O’Neil’s handy work. He created the oval at the bottom of the project, where all pieces are connected, the gates to the ranch, which are fondant-covered wooden dowels, and the foundation of the barns, which are created from plywood.

O’Neil’s finished carpentry work before the gingerbread and icing was added

The proportions of the ranch buildings were made possible thanks to original drawings created by Palkhivala (shown below), with ideal sizes noted for the structures, and through collaboration with Jason Phillips from the Stampede Sign Shop. Phillips took an image of the OH Ranch buildings, and then scaled them to the sizes that were needed for the gingerbread project. He then printed the images on special decal material that O’Neil could use to stick on the wood to help in finding precise measurements.

O’Neil, who is getting ready to retire after working 28 years at the Stampede, expressed that being part of this project was a great last project for him. “It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed doing it. A great part of my send off from the organization.”

Once the structure was created, Palkhivala was ready to start creating the sugary designs of the gingerbread ranch. “I used the decorating time as team engagement in a way. All time spent on this project was done through volunteer hours and anyone was welcome to join us if they were available,” she said.

Candy rocks, cinnamon sticks, Jujubes and live wires are just a few of the sweet treats that made this creation sparkle, including the very-special shingle roof created solely with Hershey’s chocolate.

Almost 10kgs of icing sugar, close to 60 egg whites, about 6lbs of fondant and almost close to 3kgs of assorted candies and chocolate were used to decorate the gingerbread OH Ranch!

“The marshmallow snowmen and popcorn trees really gave the gingerbread ranch a whimsical feel,” Palkhivala said. “It was so fun to have everyone come together and contribute to something bigger than all of us.”

The horses in the corral were created by Karen Monaghan, catering supervisor, and the very intricate wiring, as seen on the “Rio Alto Ranch” atop the gate, was hand-crafted by Tenaya Mackie, who does wire work in her spare time.

The main gate of the OH Ranch. Founded in 1883, the ranch was known for many years as the Rio Alto Ranch until 1950 when it was renamed the OH Ranch, after the cattle brand that has been used continuously since its founding.

After its completion, Ken Pigeon, OH ranch manager, and his wife Deb came down to Stampede Park to see the masterpiece on display. “It’s wonderful – it looks great,” Pigeon said, “It’s authentic and the details, like the wiring of the OH brand on the main gate, show off all the hard work that went into it! My wife Deb is so pleased with it as well – it looks just like the ranch.”

Ken Pigeon, OH Ranch manager, and his wife Deb (top) and the snowmen version of them (bottom)

One of the barns at the OH Ranch

What started as a fun way to get into the holiday spirit quickly became a team building project that brought employees together to utilize and showcase their individual talents and skills.

The gingerbread ranch is on display in the pre-function gathering space of the Palomino Room, BMO Centre for the remainder of the holiday season.

*A huge thank you goes to all employees who worked on this project! We couldn’t include everyone’s name in the blog post but want you to know that because of your participation and dedication to this project, the gingerbread ranch was able to turn out as beautiful as it did!

Palkhivala (top) and O’Neil (bottom) pose with the gingerbread ranch!