by BETTER FARMING STAFF
© Copyright AgMedia Inc
It takes a full day to drive roughly 900 km from Waterloo, Ont., north to Cochrane, a town of about 5,500 where you are greeted by Chimo, a giant polar bear statue, representing the town’s proximity to the Arctic. There, Highway 11 swings west past McDonald's, Tim Hortons and a rapidly growing helicopter company serving the mining companies along the James Bay coast.
Continue past a large Canadian Tire store under construction and it's another 10 km and a right turn onto Frederickhouse Road, where the pavement runs out soon after passing a white, clapboard French Catholic church, with peeling paint.
A handful of homes, some under renovations, one falling down, are spread along both sides of the pavement. It’s a remote settlement where some residents stockpile old cars, motorcycles, all terrain and recreational vehicles and firewood.
From the north end of Frederickhouse, across the sparse alders, poplars and spruce growing out of sand and rocks, a blue sign is visible in the distance on the right. It reads: “Sacred Dove Ranch.” A Canadian flag flutters atop an adjacent pole.
Local residents recall another sign here but it’s gone now: Pigeon King International Inc. That’s the name of Arlan Galbraith’s defunct, Waterloo-based, pigeon investment scheme. The Pigeon King, as Galbraith liked to be called, placed his company in bankruptcy, without warning, earlier this summer, leaving more than $40 million in debts and about 1,000 investors in Canada and the United States looking for answers. Before the bankruptcy, however, Galbraith had already prepared his northern retreat.
This place is different
A gaudy red, white and blue picket fence marking the entrance stands out from the muted colouring of the surrounding landscape. The display at the entrance includes a black and red, vintage cultivator, parked on gravel, and two lion’s head masks mounted on posts.
Down the roughly 200 metre driveway, on the right across the new pond, there is an old home with cracked siding. Locals say it was once a chicken coop. PKI financial records, obtained by Better Farming, show the company spent more than $9,000 to repair this house in 2007. Del Mountain and his wife, Galbraith’s full time farm caretakers, continue to live here although Mountain’s job ended when PKI did and he now commutes to a job in Cochrane.
To the right of Mountain’s house, barely noticeable in the bush, is a new, 300 foot-long pigeon barn. PKI’s financial records show more than $200,000 of the company’s money went into the barn, which was built about a year ago.
It’s the imposing red house on the left of the lane however that seems out of character. It has more glass, higher ceilings, a larger porch and more square footage by far, than any of the modest bungalows found in the Frederickhouse area. In stark contrast, the neighbour across the road lives in a tiny house trailer deep in the bush at the end of a narrow unmarked lane.
Name on sign but not on title
Financial records obtained by Better Farming show that in the year or so leading up to June 2008, when Galbraith pulled the plug on his pigeon business, PKI had spent about $600,000 on his Frederickhouse property. That’s in addition to $870,290 paid to Galbraith personally during the same period.
Land registry records show Galbraith, not his company, has been the sole owner of the property since 2006.
Some expenditures for the property shown in PKI’s books are vague: “Building at Cochrane,” for example, is noted beside a payment of $54,486 to Richard’s General Contracting. Richard’s received more than $400,000 from PKI for projects including the house and barn. B&F Shier contractors received more than $50,000 from PKI for “Construction @ Cochrane Ranch.”
There are payments to Lamothe’s Cabinets and Fine Furniture for nearly $27,000 in late 2007 and early 2008, with the notation: “for bathroom and kitchen cabinets.”
Although Galbraith ran his investment scheme for more than four years, he only incorporated the business in February 2007. The bankruptcy just involves Galbraith’s incorporated companies. He has not declared personal bankruptcy and at the time of the business failures he owned his Frederickhouse property free of mortgages and liens.
Galbraith didn’t answer the phone when Better Farming staff visited Frederickhouse recently so questions about spending or his plans for the property remain unanswered. Area residents canvassed by Better Farming were unaware of family or friends around Frederickhouse. Some say Galbraith told them he simply liked the area. One Cochrane resident observed that Frederickhouse is ideal for someone who wanted to be left alone: “If you’re not shooting at them (residents) ignore you,” he quipped.
Waterloo residence still for sale
PKI’s bankruptcy ended rent payments for offices in Waterloo and Moorefield and the company’s many holding barns in Canada and the United States.
Galbraith owns his home in Waterloo but it hasn't sold yet, says Remax agent Scott Miller. “We have an offer on it. It isn't firm," Miller told Better Farming. He says the listing expired last week and the house has been relisted but hasn't shown up on the Multiple Listing Service website yet.
When originally up for sale, the asking price was $389,000 for the 10-year-old, 2,280 square foot home, situated on a professionally landscaped lot in an upscale neighbourhood in Waterloo.
Galbraith sticks close to home
Since handing his companies over to a bankruptcy trustee Galbraith has by all accounts become withdrawn, living alone with his tiny dog and remaining in or near his house most days where he enjoys a satellite television connection, but no Internet.
Residents say Galbraith was outgoing, charming and popular, during frequent visits after he first purchased the property. Staff at a local inn where he regularly booked the “Honeymoon Suite, with a female companion, for $375 per weekend, say they resisted his pigeon sales pitch. One worker who has an empty building at home however, acknowledges she nearly jumped in after being offered an opportunity to sign up for just $10,000 at a time when other investors were anteing up $100,000 or more.
Better Farming could not find any PKI investors around Cochrane or Frederickhouse.
Pigeons close to home too
One area resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described hundreds of pigeons being turned loose from Galbraith’s barn this summer around the time that he abandoned his investors. “The hawks likely got most of them,” he claims, adding “there might be another 200 remaining. I think he likes pigeons.”
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs as well as the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Ontario Farm Animal Council have urged PKI breeders not to turn pigeons loose.
Not everyone has given up
If Galbraith did release birds it would have come at a time when a group of former investors are trying to market PKI birds as meat. They originally paid Galbraith as much as $500 per pair for their birds and have turned to former PKI salesman Ken Wagler, from Embro, about 60 km southwest of Waterloo, as their spokesman.
Initially, Galbraith told investors the pigeons were sought after by a rapidly growing sport bird industry. Sport bird officials denied that their industry was growing and insisted Galbraith’s birds had no value. In later years Galbraith promoted the same birds as squab, although established squab breeders insist the birds are too small to be profitable meat birds.
This summer Wagler stopped speaking to Better Farming, alleging that the publishers are part of a conspiracy masterminded by chicken producers, worried about competition from squab. One of the investors in Wagler’s group told Better Farming he had to sign a confidentiality agreement that prevents him from disclosing the group’s activities.
PKI records show that the company paid Wagler a total of $305,323.13 from March 07 to July 08. Of that amount, $37,803.75 was for birds and $267,519.38 was for his services as a salesman.
For more information on PKI and a review of other farm investment schemes see the cover story in the Oct 2008 issue of Better Farming magazine. BF
© Copyright AgMedia Inc.