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The Calgary Stampede: Saddle Up!

For the week of Monday July 2, 2012

July 6, 2012 will be the opening day of the Calgary Stampede. Calgary has become famous for this 10 day festival, which welcomes more than a million visitors each year!

The Calgary Stampede was the brainchild of Guy Weadick, an American who wanted to pay tribute to the tradition of the cowboy. Weadick believed that the City of Calgary was the perfect place to host the event and worked tirelessly to convince local businessmen to finance it. Four men known as “the Big Four,” Alfred Ernest Cross, Patrick Burns, George Lane and Archie McLean, each guarunteed up to $25,000 toward the cost of the event.

Poster from the 1949 Calgary Exhibition & Stampede
© Library and Archives Canada / R1300-1176, 1949

The first Stampede took place from September 2 to 5, 1912, and was a resounding success. Thousands of people attended the opening parade consisting of rodeo participants and First Nations people in traditional dress. Visitors attended rodeo events and explored a native village constructed with the support of neighbouring communities. Although there were no plans to hold further stampedes, the experience was repeated in 1919 to mark the end of the First World War. Then, in 1923, the Stampede merged with the Calgary Exhibition, an agricultural fair that had been held regularly since 1886 but was having financial problems. After the merger, it was decided that the Stampede would be an annual event, and Weadick persuaded the whole city to re-create the Old West for the duration of the Stampede.

Bull riding at the Calgary Stampede
© Chuck Szmurlo, 2007

The program of the Calgary Stampede branched out and expanded with the years. Today, the Stampede includes an agricultural fair, famous parade, theme park, lots of shows and an Indian village that preserves and showcases native culture. The rodeo includes many dangerous competitions that are full of spills and chills: bareback and saddle horse riding, bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling and races. The winners receive generous cash prizes. While the Calgary Stampede is on, there are all kinds of activities and the action is non-stop!

Of all the rodeo events, the most famous and controversial is the chuck wagon race, introduced in 1923 by Guy Weadick. In a chuck wagon race, drivers command a team of horses pulling a covered wagon and are followed by two to four riders on separate horses. To begin each race, the outriders toss two tent poles and a barrel into the covered wagon before the chuck wagon can cut a figure eight pattern around two stationary barrels. Once the figure eight is completed, the driver of the chuck wagon and the outriders run a circuit around the track.

Now one of the largest festivals in Canada, the Calgary Stampede is an event of national historic significance. This year, we will be commemorating the centennial of the first Calgary Stampede! To learn more about the Calgary Stampede, please read the article, “It's Good To Be Alberta Bound”, in the This Week in History archives.

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