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   October 25, 2014



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Former Edmonton promoter Al Oeming dies
By KEVIN MAIMANN - Edmonton Sun


Al Oeming stands next to his historical Extension-Top Surrey wagon, which carried Sir Wilfred Laurier when he was prime minister of Canada early last century. (File photo)


The former owner and operator of Strathcona County’s Alberta Game Farm, a world-renowned facility in the 1970s, has died at age 88.

Al Oeming, who was also a wrestler and a Second World War veteran, died from complications after heart surgery on March 17.

Oeming was known across Canada for bringing his cheetah Tawana to schools, malls and seniors homes to educate people on exotic animals and raise money for his conservation program.

His son Eric says young students always appreciated Tawana’s visits.

“It was amazing. They were just absolutely spellbound,” he said.


“We had a lot of fun together on the road … It was nothing to drive for 24 hours straight. And an Oeming always leaves at 4 a.m.”

Al started wrestling in the 1940s after serving in the navy, and simultaneously studied zoology at the University of Alberta. His keen interest in wildlife earned him the nickname “Nature Boy,” which he used as a wrestler and promoter.

“The papers used to coin him as the boy promoter, because he was just in his early 20s,” Eric said.

Al sold his half of the Stampede Wrestling promotions company to longtime friend and business partner Stu Hart — father of famous wrestlers Bret and Owen Hart — and used the money to buy the land for the Alberta Game Farm.

He opened the 1,400-acre facility at Highway 14 and Range Road 223 in 1959, and and it grew to house hundreds of species of animals.

Ten years later, Al became something of a celebrity when PBS aired a documentary about his game farm, titled Journey to the High Arctic.

“We had two phone lines here — one for the house, one for the farm — and we fielded over 2,000 phone calls over that weekend (after it aired),” Eric recalled.

“The next summer, there was a licence plate from every state in the union and every province in the dominion. That’s what put us on the map.”

Al’s successful exotic species breeding programs earned him an honourary doctorate of law from the U of A in 1972, while tourists continued flocking to the Alberta Game Farm. Eric said his dad borrowed $900,000 to build a gorilla enclosure in 1969 and paid it off in two years. In 1971, he borrowed $1.2 million for a polar bear enclosure and paid it in a year.

“We were big time,” he said.

Over the years, Al was featured on TV shows including Wild Kingdom, The Alan Hamel show, and a CBC documentary called Al Oeming: Man of the North.

Dwindling visitors, stricter requirements on animal collections and criticism from animal rights activists led him to downsize to rebrand as Polar Park in 1980, however, narrowing his focus to cold-weather animals.

When Polar Park closed in the late ’90s, Al changed his focus to collecting and auctioning horse-drawn carriages, buggies, cutters and sleighs.

“He led such a colourful life and impacted so many people,” said Al’s son Todd.

“He was a real driven guy, he was an entrepreneurial type of guy that didn’t take a back seat to anybody.”

Todd has spent the past eight years working with his dad on an “eco resort” called Wild Splendor, which will raise money for nature conservancy in Alberta.

Al’s ashes will be buried in a spruce bog forest on the Polar Park property, as per his wishes.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We'll have a wrestling-related story on Al Oeming in the coming week, where he talks about promoting in the 1940s and 1950s in Edmonton.

RELATED LINKS

  • Remembering Al Oeming's days as a wrestler and promoter
  • The wrestlers Al Oeming knew
  • The Canadian Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame
  • Previous SLAM! Wrestling obituaries