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Farmer, philanthropist to be honoured Sunday

John Bocock known for eco-activism
JOHN BOCOCK 1934-2023 — Sturgeon County farmer and philanthropist John Bocock died Aug. 6. A celebration of his life will take place at the St. Albert United Church on Aug. 20. He is shown here as he was in 2016. AKEMI MATSUBUCHI/Photo

The life of the Sturgeon County farmer who helped create the St. Albert Research Station will be honoured this Sunday in St. Albert.

Sturgeon County farmer and philanthropist John Bocock died Aug. 6 at the University of Alberta Hospital, his family reports. He was 89.

Bocock was a lifelong dairy farmer in Sturgeon County and a passionate advocate for the environment. In 2008, he helped negotiate a deal to sell roughly 314 hectares of the Bocock family farm to the U of A at a substantially reduced price to protect it from development. It was the largest land gift for research ever made to a Canadian university at the time, and it led to the creation of the St. Albert Research Station.

“The donation of that land to the University of Alberta was an extremely generous act,” said William Shotyk, who holds the Bocock Chair for Agriculture and the Environment at the U of A (a position established in parallel with the St. Albert Research Station), and has let researchers break new ground in crop and soil research.

Shotyk said he would often bring students from his lab to Bocock’s farm to discuss their latest research.

“He was passionate about agriculture but he was also very passionate about the environment,” he said, which made for many great conversations.

“I only wish I could have had more of them.”

Farmer, advocate

Bocock’s wife, Jenny, said her husband was born in Edmonton in 1934 to parents Geoff and Molly. He got to work on the family farm at a young age, driving his first tractor when he was seven.

“Being the youngest, it was my privilege when the bin was almost full to squeeze into the bin past the thresher spout to push grain back into the corners of the bin,” Bocock wrote in Preserving the Future: the Story Behind the St. Albert Research Station.

“Just before getting buried, a wave to Henry (the thresher operator) would prompt a move to the next bin.”

Bocock earned his bachelor of science in agriculture from the U of A in 1957 and continued to work at the farm with his brother Bill. Jenny said the two would often quarrel, with Bocock criticizing his brother’s failures while covering up his own.

Jenny said Bocock was inspired to turn his life around after he met up with members of the faith movement Moral Rearmament in Edmonton. He reconciled with Bill, and went on to travel the world with the movement telling his story to others to speed reconciliation.

Jenny said Bocock’s passion for the environment was a natural offshoot of his farming.

“It was just sort of common sense really. If you ruin your land, crops don’t grow, and you can’t feed people.”

Jenny said Bocock was the spokesperson for the Roseridge Citizens’ Committee, which worked to get scrubbers installed on a sour gas plant near Cardiff in the 1980s. He and his family helped fund the large solar array on the St. Albert United Church building as well as several scholarships.

Shotyk said the Bococks’ support has let him make new discoveries on contaminants and micronutrients in traditional Indigenous foods. Bocock also inspired the Mattheis family to gift 5,000 hectares to the U of A in 2010 to create the Rangelands Research Institute.

Bocock received the Alumni Centenary Award for Volunteer Service from the U of A in 2016. He and the rest of the Bococks received the St. Albert Community Foundation’s Philanthropy Award in 2019.

Jenny said Bocock’s remains have been cremated and will likely be spread on the family farm. She planned to remember him as a loving husband and a good father.

“I couldn’t have asked for a nicer husband.”

Bocock is survived by his wife Jenny, brother Bill, and daughter Rachel de Vos.

The St. Albert United Church will host a celebration of Bocock’s life at noon Aug. 20 at 20 Green Grove Drive. Call 780-458-8355 for details.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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