The Life and Times of H.S. (Stan) Ragan

8335129My father recently passed away at the tender age of 86. He was much loved by his family and many friends and colleagues.  We were honored that the newspaper in his “home town”, the Edmonton Journal, wanted to write a story about his many engineering contributions to the city and the province.

Following is a short story about the life and times of my Dad, of whom I am incredibly proud. I wanted to share this with you all in case you didn’t get a chance to see it in the paper.

Life & Times of Stan Ragan


He played a key role in designing many of Edmonton’s most iconic and distinctive structures. From Commonwealth Stadium to the University of Alberta Butterdome, the Oxford Tower and the Quesnell Bridge, Stan Ragan’s impressive body of work is all around us.  The U of A civil engineering grad, who spent most of his long and distinguished 43-year career as a consulting engineer in Edmonton, died March 25 at the age of 85.

Born Harold Stanley Ragan, he is survived by his wife of 62 years, Nancy, five of their six sons, and 14 grandchildren.  A thoughtful, well-read, devoted family man with a dry wit and a boundless sense of curiosity, Ragan thought a structure’s esthetic qualities were just as important as its utility value. In particular, he had a deep passion for beautiful bridges, one that began early in his career.

After graduating from the U of A — where he met his future wife during a frosh week hay ride — Ragan was hired in 1950 as a bridge engineer by the Alberta government’s public works department. One of his first projects was the Lundbreck Falls Bridge, near the Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberta. Although the modest concrete arch hardly ranks as a landmark, it always held a special place in Ragan’s heart, says his wife, Nancy, since it embodied his reverence for form as well as functionality. Ragan once told a magazine writer about a poster in his office that included a quote he embraced as a core principle: “If we must change the world,” it said, “let it show the mark of our intelligence.”

Many other bridge projects followed, from obscure railway trestles to urban bridges in Medicine Hat and Edmonton, where he designed the Menzies LRT crossing next to the High Level Bridge, and the Whitemud Creek Bridge. Ragan left his government job in 1956 to become a junior partner at Stanley Grimble and Roblin Ltd. There, he worked alongside Don Stanley, a young Harvard grad who would later form Stantec Inc., now one of the city’s most successful companies. In 1961, Ragan teamed up with Ian McBride, another U of A civil engineering grad, to form McBride Ragan Consulting Engineers Ltd., a predecessor of what is now BPTEC-DNW Engineering.

“Elizabeth (McBride) and I were junior leaguers, so we would go to junior league events and other social events, and we introduced the boys (Ian and Stan) to one another,” recalls Nancy Ragan. “And of course Ian was an engineer too, so they became good friends and decided to open their own firm. But we liked to think that was our doing,” she says with a chuckle.

Like any small business, it was a struggle at first. But the partners soon found their footing, and the business thrived. “We started with just the two of us in Ian’s basement, finally hired a draftsman and later a halftime secretary and never looked back,” Ragan wrote in a short autobiographical piece he penned as a member of the U of A’s 1950 grad class in civil engineering.

“Probably the most challenging assignment for me was to lead the design team of a consortium of engineers and architects to design Commonwealth Stadium for the Commonwealth Games of 1978 in Edmonton.” In the early 1980s, Ragan led the team of Ragan, Bell, McManus in designing another city landmark: the U of A Butterdome, which was completed in 1983. In a quirky bit of history, the building’s bright yellow exterior was actually inspired by a coffee mug Ragan happened to be sipping from during a meeting with the building’s architect, Junichi Hashimoto. “We had meeting after meeting about this. We had our choice of about 10 standard colours from the manufacturer of the panels, or we could order a custom colour,” Ragan recalled in a 2006 magazine interview. “I remember Junichi saying, ‘It’s a high-energy building, so it’s got to be a high-energy colour, … about the colour of Stan’s coffee cup.” And so it came to pass.

Despite a busy and demanding career, Ragan was a devoted father and husband, according to his wife, Nancy, and son, Tim. He loved to oversee family projects — such as the A-frame cottage he and his boys built at Pigeon Lake — and to go on camping trips around Alberta and British Columbia. “He was a pretty cool guy, very family-oriented. We were always doing some family project or other,” says Tim Ragan, now an Ottawa business consultant, and one of several sons who earned engineering degrees. “He was very good with his hands. So we’d do our own basement renovation when we’d move into a new house. We built boats and all kinds of stuff. He was a real handyman who really believed you could fix anything yourself if you set your mind to it.”

After his retirement in 1993, Stan and Nancy travelled widely, visiting China, India, Japan, South Africa, Kenya, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Bali and New Zealand, among other places. Ragan always brought his camera along, often taking photos of beautiful bridges along the way. “He had a great collection of bridge books. And when he was so ill in December, I decided he should really write a little thing in many of his bridge books, and give them to each of the grandchildren for Christmas,” says Nancy, who moved with Stan to Calgary in 2004 so they could be close to their eldest son, John, while he was battling cancer. “So we did that together as a project. I didn’t want to just give the books away. I wanted to give them to the grandkids.”

A celebration of Stan Ragan’s life will be held Saturday, May 18, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Parkland Community Center, at 14660 Parkland Blvd. S.E. in Calgary.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal



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