18 July 2010

A History Lesson

I had to do some digging in the dark recesses of my computer, but I found what I was looking for: a speech that Chloe wrote about the history of The Calgary Stampede. Why is Chloe's speech on my computer you may ask?  Well, because I love writing essays, and I love the Stampede, and so this speech was a little more of a collaboration then maybe it should have been - not unlike all of the research papers she and Holly had to write in junior high because they opted out of sex ed.  Don't worry, I worked with their teacher years later who said he felt like he had taught me because he had read so many of my essays - good guy.  (Poor Phoebe got shafted - it just didn't seem right to do her homework for her when I was her teacher.)

Anyway, back to the speech on the Stampede.  With all the Stampeding going on this week, I thought it was fun to brush up on my history and thought some of you might think so too.  Here it is:

Calgary Stampede

In 1912 when American Wild West performer Guy Weadick and his trick riding wife, Flores LaDue came to Calgary, they didn’t know the profound affect that Weadick would have on the city and the western heritage surrounding it. Weadick saw the city of Calgary, with Western roots as deep as any Canadian City, and saw an opportunity.  He envisioned the biggest "frontier days show the world has ever seen... hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls, thousands of natives. We’ll have Mexican ropers and riders... We’ll make Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Extravaganza look like a slide show."  With that vision he approached the General Manager of the Calgary Industrial Exhibition, a yearly Industrial fair held in Calgary. E.L Richardson agreed to let Weadick rent the Exhibition’s land, 94 acres previously purchased from the Dominion government, for his Wild West show.  Weadick then contacted some of the richest ranchers in the area, the men now referred to as "The Big 4": George Lane, AE Cross, AJ McLean and Patrick Burns, and asked them to each finance his dream with twenty five thousand dollars.  With a hundred thousand dollars in hand, Guy Weadick went about to create what is now indisputably "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth:" The Calgary Stampede!

Today the Calgary Stampede is best known for the many performers it brings, the midway, the mini-doughnuts and the cheesy western outfits, but at its birth the Calgary Stampede was the biggest rodeo and Wild West show in North America.  With rodeo prize money at twenty thousand dollars the rodeo brought competitors from all over Canada and the United States.  That very first year over one hundred thousand spectators came to see what Guy Weadick put together, cementing the Calgary Stampede into history.

But financing was not Weadick’s only stumbling block. What he had envisioned was even far greater than just cowboys and horses.  Women played a significant role in the first Stampede with trick riding, relay races, riding bucking horses and steer roping. He wanted all aspects of the Wild West, including the natives.  However, at this time in history the Natives were severely restricted.  They were not allowed off the reserves without government permit.  They were not allowed to live in Teepees or wear traditional clothing. They were not allowed to speak their traditional languages.  Weadick invited them to come to the Stampede, but the Indian Agents would not give them permits.  Undaunted, Guy Weadick travelled to Ottawa to ask permission for the Natives to participate in the 1912 Stampede.  Permission was granted, but the Natives were told that they could not bring their Teepees and traditional clothing and that they could only speak English.  While history is unclear if these restrictions were ever officially changed, Guy Weadick sent the message for the natives to come with their Teepees and not to worry about the Indian Agents.  1912 began one of the most prominent traditions of the Calgary Stampede, the Indian Village, a tradition which has continued ever since. The Stampede offered the Natives a time to connect with different tribes, to teach their young the traditional ways and to showcase their culture to the world.  Today there are 27 teepees at the Calgary Stampede representing the five major tribes of Alberta. The Natives still remember Guy Weadick for his role in preserving their culture.

In 1912 Weadick included already popular rodeo events, including saddle bronc and calf roping.  After dark the infield was lighted with the headlights of cars.  Tom Three Persons, Albertan Native from the Blood Tribe, won the Bronc event by riding the previously unridden bronc, Cyclone, taking home one thousand dollars and a fine saddle.  He was not only the only Native to win prize money that first year, but the only Canadian. The rodeo has remained one of the highlights of the Calgary Stampede.

In 1923 the organizers of the Calgary Industrial Exhibition saw the Stampede as a much needed novelty to bring life back into their sinking venture.  Agreeing to combine the two events, Weadick sought out a new and exciting idea to entice spectators to come to Calgary, and thus the Chuckwagon race was born.

Stories about the origin of the Chuckwagon race vary.  Some maintain that it was common for wagon races to be held on the open range.  Others believe that during the land rushes of the nineteenth century settlers would race their wagons to the prized pieces of land to claim.  Weadick claimed that he got the idea from his own experiences on the range when, after a cattle round up the cowboys would race the chuck wagons for the last half mile to the nearest bar in town: the crew that rolled in last would be stuck buying the winners a round of drinks.  However the idea came about, in 1923 Weadick instituted the notorious, sometimes deadly and always thrilling "Half Mile of Hell": the Chuckwagon race.  This gave the Exhibition the energy it needed to get out of the red and began the now familiar Calgary Exhibition and Stampede with rodeo and agriculture exhibits combined.  

For twenty years Guy Weadick ran the Calgary Stampede, returning in 1952 to ride in the Stampede parade, one year before he passed away.  Today his legend still lives on as strong as when he began it. The Stampede Grounds now cover over 193 acres of prime real estate.  In 2007 well over one million two hundred fifty thousand people attended the Stampede, one million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars were awarded at the rodeo and one million eight hundred forty four thousand two hundred eighty six mini donuts were eaten. The Calgary Exhibition and Stampede remains a non-profit event, preserving the culture that Guy Weadick so loved, bringing together cowboys, cowgirls, First Nations and spectators from all over the world for the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth!


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