A Century of Cowboys!



Calgary Stampede’s Centennial Party

By Tracey Feist


Leading The Parade

Canadian Cowboys Competing At Calgary

Chuckwagon Racing

Stampede By The Numbers

Fannie Sperry

Stampede School

Pride vs Politics

As the Calgary Stampede gears up to celebrate its 100th birthday this July, it is also a great time to reflect on the people who have spent a century making it The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

I grew up on a ranch west of Calgary and now that I live in Colorado, one of the first things people always ask me is about the Stampede, or they immediately tell me about their experience, or how visiting the Calgary Stampede is on their ‘bucket list’. I try my best to describe a city that goes mad for everything cowboy for 10 days.

Most Calgarians have a connection to the Stampede. I consider myself fortunate to have many memorable Stampede moments; watching the Stampede Parade at three; laughing hysterically with my cousin riding on the Zipper on the midway; showing cattle at the UFA Steer Classic; working my first job at the Grain Academy on Stampede Park, and eventually becoming part of the Calgary Stampede family as an 11-year volunteer on its agriculture media committee.

In writing this article, I also discovered my interviewees had their own personal Stampede connections. Dave Poulsen, a 26-year veteran Stampede rodeo announcer, performed in the Young Canadians dance troupe during the nightly Grandstand performance. Calgary Stampede President Mike Casey was a Stampede volunteer for 35 years and was one of the founding members of the Caravan Committee. What lies beneath is a Stampede spirit in all of us, one that Casey says “captures your soul.” And as the C lazy S celebrates its centennial in 2012, you’ll discover the Calgary Stampede and its people continue to preserve and promote Western heritage and commitment to community.

acenturyofcowboys0612_04_250Photos courtesy Calgary Stampede

One of the great successes of the Calgary Stampede is its capacity to solicit volunteer support as a non-profit organization. More than 2,200 people volunteer on 45 committees throughout the entire year. On the ag media committee our mandate was simple; to promote the other 21 agriculture-related committees. I wanted to become a part of the Stampede family as a way of paying homage to my ranching roots. So it was a natural fit promoting the fact that the Stampede began in 1886 as an agricultural fair.

Soon after, Calgary’s agricultural fair took a turn in 1908 when it became more of an exhibition, says Stampede historian Aimee Benoit. That year, the Dominion Exhibition received $50,000 by becoming part of a national government grant program, a provincial grant of $35,000 and a $25,000 donation from the City of Calgary, a record budget designated to stage the biggest fair in Western Canada. The city did not disappoint, and drew over 100,000 people to the event.

acenturyofcowboys0612_05_250Photos courtesy Calgary Stampede

It was here at the 1908 Dominion Exhibition where American Guy Weadick performed as a trick roper in a one-day event staged by the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show. Calgary made such an impression that Weadick would spend the next four years developing a ‘Stampede’ rodeo to re-create his vision of the Canadian frontier experience. Calgary’s location was picturesque, its population was thriving with 60,000 residents, and importantly, it had money.

He just had to round it up.

A.P. (known as Ad) Day, a prominent Medicine Hat/Manyberries area rancher, heard about the budding impresario’s idea and told Weadick he would bring $10,000 to the table—and a band of top broncs for the event “if” Weadick could get Calgary folks interested.

acenturyofcowboys0612_16_250Photos courtesy Calgary Stampede

Weadick approached Bar U rancher, George Lane and laid out his plan. Lane liked the idea and with his backing, Weadick then approached successful ranchers Pat Burns and A.E. Cross. A.J. McLean soon joined in with his financial support too and, all told, the Big Four, as they’re now known, brought a whopping $100,000 to the table with this demand; “Make it the greatest thing of its kind in the world,” Weadick recalled in his later years.


Together, the group declined Ad Day’s offer of $10,000, but accepted his horses and expertise, making a deal with the rancher for all the top rough stock he could gather and appointing him arena director for the first-ever Calgary Stampede.

A master promoter, Weadick lured the top cowboys from across North America to the inaugural event in 1912 with unheard-of prizes and cash. Offering $20,000 in prize money, Weadick promoted: “The money is here. Come and get it.” (Even my Granddad Johnnie Munro made $300 at the 1926 Calgary Stampede riding saddle bronc, money that helped greatly back at home on the dairy farm at Springbank.)

In 1923 the two events merged into the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. Weadick was hired on as manager and that year he added two very important ingredients: “exciting, potentially dangerous chuckwagon races” and a request for the whole city to dress “Western”. I think Weadick would be thrilled to know that Calgary was recently named Canada’s 2012 cultural center and its 1.1 million people still dress Western.

acenturyofcowboys0612_15_250Photos courtesy Calgary Stampede

“One of the things that’s absolutely magic,” explains Poulsen, “is that it doesn’t matter if you are an oil executive or just a guy driving a truck, you’re going to put a cowboy hat on for 10 days.”

Today Weadick’s Stampede contributes $127.2 million into Calgary’s economy, and $166.3 million for Alberta, during those 10 days in July.

While Calgary’s prize purse was big in 1912, the organization really stepped into the rodeo spotlight in 1982 when $50,000 in prize money was offered for the five major rodeo events. It was a “wackin’ amount of money,” says Poulsen. “I don’t think even the top guys were coming anywhere close to that in their entire season’s earnings,” he explains. Today the Stampede is the world’s richest outdoor event, offering just over $2 million in rodeo prize money and another $1.15 million for its nightly GMC Rangeland Derby chuckwagon races.

acenturyofcowboys0612_19_250Photos courtesy Calgary Stampede

“Calgary caters to the cowboys,” explains eight-time World Champion Tie-Down Roper Roy Cooper. The Decatur, Texas cowboy has had a long association with the rodeo; his uncle Jimmie won the 1949 calf roping in Calgary. Cooper himself wore the Stampede crown four times, one of which was the $50,000 prize in 1982. Of that memory Cooper says, “I thought, ‘Oh Lord, look what kind of money we can win ropin’.”

With a vision to always put on the biggest and the best show, Stampede officials implemented rule and format changes in October, 2005. Now a non-sanctioned tournament-style rodeo, the top American and Canadian cowboys receive personal invitations from the Stampede Rodeo Committee to compete. The Top Four money winners in each pool advance to the finals called Showdown Sunday.

acenturyofcowboys0612_21_250Tom Three Persons
First Nations cowboy, Tom Three Persons from the Blood tribe in southern Alberta emerged as the 1912 World Champion bronc rider at the Calgary Stampede. Not only was he a great athlete, Three Persons was also a savvy businessman, and he continued to successfully compete while building a sizable and successful ranch where he raised Thoroughbreds and Herefords. He was inducted into the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1983.
Photos courtesy NA 778-7 Glenbow Archives

Paul Rosenberg, Calgary Stampede programming vice president says the changes to the Stampede rodeo format started with a very simple question: “Where are we going with rodeo? We saw something better than what we were doing. We can’t just assume that what we did a few years ago is what they want today. We have to keep going back to our community and say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing, we need your support. Are you with us?’ That’s how great community events are sustained over a 100 years.”

Poulsen says he likes the tournament style. “From a fan’s perspective I think it’s brilliant; they can start to really relate to those athletes. It really makes the whole 10 days exciting. That’s why other rodeos have copied this format, adapted it somewhat, but have certainly followed suit.”

Roy Cooper agrees. “Calgary kind of broke that ground,” he says. “I think it’s amazing they take a stand and do what they want to (because) they do it for the cowboys.” The Stampede legacy continues in the Cooper family as Roy’s sons Tuf and Clif, placed first and second respectively in the Stampede’s tie-down roping in 2011. “You see the best of the best. It really is the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” says Cooper.

One of my favourite Stampede memories began with meeting a couple from Austin, Texas at the 1995 National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. After boldly telling S.R. and Suzanne Barker they hadn’t been to a rodeo until they’ve been to the Calgary Stampede, Suzanne told me many years later S.R. didn’t know if he should believe me. So in 1997 they came to see for themselves.

They loved the personable Western hospitality shown by all throughout their stay. The heavy horse competition accompanied by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in the Scotiabank Saddledome was a favourite and they loved hearing Roy Rogers’ song, “Happy Trails” at the end of the rodeo, a signature Stampede moment created by Winston Bruce, long-time, now retired Stampede rodeo manager. But it was S.R.’s big ol’ grin while watching the rodeo performance that validated my earlier, boastful comment. He leaned in, smiled and said with his Texas drawl, “Honey, you were right. Calgary is the best rodeo I’ve ever been to.”

acenturyofcowboys0612_20_250First Nations in Parade
The Stampede has issued a special invitation to the original First Nations families that have participated in the Stampede parade and rodeo. The up to tenth-generation descendants will have a place of honour in the Centennial Parade.
Photos courtesy Calgary Stampede

Today, much has changed since the Barkers’ last Stampede visit. The organization’s ongoing $600 million revitalization includes new trade and entertainment facilities, agriculture building, hotel, a riverfront park and ongoing art commissions throughout the city.

When arriving at the Calgary International Airport you see one of the first of 10 life-size bronzes commissioned by the Stampede as part of its public art initiative. Breakaway by Robert Spaith, depicts five energetic horses rising from the floor.

They’ve been busy delivering surprise birthday cakes to community events across the province, celebrating its centennial slogan ‘We’re Greatest Together’. They’ll unveil the very first midway ride to carry the Calgary Stampede brand. The roller-coaster Outlaw is named after the Stampede’s famous rodeo bull. A temporary zip-line—the largest in North America—will span 850 feet over the midway. Special jackets made by Roots are now for sale, and only two of 100 limited-edition Centennial saddles are still available.

Paul Brandt, Canada’s two-time Juno award-winning country artist, will perform with the Young Canadians in the nightly Grandstand show called ‘Century’. The TransAlta Lights of the Night fireworks will fire off from Stampede Park and four locations across Calgary. Legendary Western icon Ian Tyson will kick off the Centennial as the Stampede Parade Marshal. And now Garth Brooks is playing on July 12. Dare I say it is only the beginning of what will be centennial celebrations envied by all?

For me, my Stampede connection came full circle when I got to see it unfold behind the scenes as a volunteer. What I witnessed was that the whole Calgary Stampede—rodeo, agriculture, Indian Village, Young Canadians, Stampede Showband, chuckwagon races—is greater than the sum of its parts. And I recently got to share that energy with my two children on a visit home for spring break down at Olympic Plaza for the 2012 Calgary Stampede 100-day kick off. As we were madly ringing our centennial cow bells, I can only hope that I’ve ignited a Stampede spark in them. If there’s one thing I know for sure it’s this; our new Stampede Centennial saddle, which will be displayed proudly in Colorado, will serve as a reminder of our family’s connection to the Calgary Stampede: The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth!

Historic Photos Courtesy NA-2864-23335 Glenbow Archives; NA-2365-4 Glenbow Archives; NA-5676-4 Glenbow Archives


Leading the Parade…

World leaders, royalty, athletes, cowboys, chiefs and actors have all led the parade over the years. Here’s a sampling of some of the past Parade Marshals.


1912 Duke and Duchess of Connaught
1923 Guy Weadick, Founder of the Stampede
1925 Hoot Gibson, rodeo champion / actor
1950 Louis Stephen St. Laurent, Prime Minister
1959 Bing Crosby, entertainer
1963 Bob Hope, comedian
1964 Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister
1965 Walt Disney, CEO, Disney Studios
1966 Red Adair, oil field firefighter
1967 Nancy Greene, Olympic skier
1971 Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister
1972 Chief Dan George, Chief / actor
1974 Douglas Badger, Victoria Cross / WWII Flying Ace / Commander
1977 Prince Charles, Prince of Wales
1979 Wilf Carter, singer
1983 Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse
1984 Wilf Carter, singer
1988 Robin Burwash, champion cowboy, Tracey Wilson, Robert McCall, pairs figure skater Brian Orser, Olympic figure skater Tom Glass, champion chuckwagon driver
1991 Rita McNeil, singer
1992 Leslie Neilson, actor
1993 Christopher Reeve, actor
1997 Jack Palance, actor
1998 Sam Elliott, actor
1999 Herman Linder, All Around Rodeo Champion
2001 Chris Hadfield, astronaut
2003 Iris Glass, Grand Dame of chuckwagon racing
2008 Patsy Rodgers, First Stampede Queen (1946)
2011 Rick Hansen, Canada’s Man in Motion
2012 Ian Tyson, singer / songwriter
acenturyofcowboys0612_07_250Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister
acenturyofcowboys0612_07_250Wilf Carter, singer
acenturyofcowboys0612_07_250Prince Charles, Prince of Wales
acenturyofcowboys0612_07_250Rita McNeil, singer
acenturyofcowboys0612_07_250Ian Tyson, singer / songwriter

Canadian Cowboys Competing at Calgary

acenturyofcowboys0612_12_250Photo courtesy Billy Melville

Out of the 120 invitations issued for a chance at over $2 million in prize money, 32 contestants are from Canada. Here’s your Canadian Cowboy cheering list:

Saddle Bronc
Jim Berry – Rocky Mountain House AB
Luke Butterfield – Ponoka AB
Kyreon Geiger – Bracken SK
Rylan Geiger – Bracken SK
Kyle Thomson – Lundbreck AB
Dustin Flundra – Pincher Creek AB

Colin Adams – Deloraine MB
Luke Creasy – Brownfield AB
Logan Hodson – Telkwa BC
Dusty LaValley – Bezanson AB
Jake Vold – Ponoka AB

Tie-Down Roping
Steve Lloyd – Alix AB
Murray Pole – Erskine AB
Randy Smith – Pincher Creek AB

Steer Wrestling
Curtis Cassidy – Donalda AB
Cody Cassidy – Donalda AB
Rowdy Hays – Rocky Mountain House AB
Tanner Milan – Cochrane AB
Straws Milan – Cochrane AB
Lee Graves – Calgary AB

Ladies Barrel Racing
Gaylene Buff – Westwold BC
Traci MacDonald – Erskine AB
Lindsay Sears – Nanton AB
Joleen Seitz – Savona BC

Bull Riding
Chad Besplug – Claresholm AB
Denton Edge – Marwayne AB
Dusty Ephrom – Kenosee Lake SK
Tanner Girletz – Bowden AB
Tyler Pankewitz – Ponoka AB
Aaron Roy – Yellow Grass SK
Tyler Thomson – Black Diamond AB
Ty Pozzobon – Merritt BC

Chuckwagon Racing

By Billy Melville

acenturyofcowboys0612_14_250Clem Gardner’s VU Ranch Outfit from Pirmez Creek, Alta. Outriders are staking the canvas fly and about to make a small fire as according to the rules of the day, “first smoke wins.” ca 1924.
Photo courtesy Billy Melville

The idea of staging a chuckwagon race as an actual ‘event’ was dreamed up by Calgary Stampede founder Guy Weadick.

There are many thoughts on what inspired Weadick’s dream that range from stories of match races at the 1922 Gleichen Stampede between farm wagons pulled by four horses; impromptu races between ranch outfits where the wagons would race to the nearest town saloon and the last ones there had to buy the first round of drinks, or where the first outfit there got the best camping spot the town could offer, and the stories from the great land rushes in South Dakota and Oklahoma.

The most popular story is that at the 1919 Victory Stampede, two cooks loaded up their chuckwagons and raced down the track to see who could get to the exit gates first, much to the pleasure of the grandstand crowd. Others claim that “Wild Horse” Jack Morton, an original participant, was the one who suggested the idea to Guy Weadick.

What really matters is that the dream was realized by Guy Weadick, and the first ‘official’ races took place at the 1923 Calgary Stampede.

Over the years, the rules and equipment have been altered but the one thing that has remained consistent is that the chuckwagon races are one of the most exciting forms of entertainment the Calgary Stampede has to offer.

Stampede By The Numbers

acenturyofcowboys0612_13_250Photo courtesy Calgary Stampede
  • Calgary offers over $2 million in prize money, the largest purse in outdoor rodeo
  • GMC Rangeland Derby (chuckwagon) is over $1 million
  • Over one million people attend the 10-day Stampede each July
  • Attendance record was set in 2006: 1,262,518
  • Over 30,000 Stampede posters are distributed around the world annually
  • Stampede patrons: 70 per cent local, 30 per cent tourist
  • The Calgary Stampede parade route is 4.5 kilometers
  • Over two million mini doughnuts are sold each year
  • Over 200,000 pancakes are served at community breakfasts each year
  • Stampede Park is comprised of 193 acres
  • Annual year-round visitors to Stampede Park: approx. 3,600,000
  • Each year 26 teepees are set up in Indian Village
  • Over 30,000 flowers are planted on the grounds each year
  • The Stampede has over 2,000 year-round volunteers and over 1,200 year-round employees
  • Each July the Stampede hires over 3,000 seasonal employees
  • Tourism spending attributable to the Calgary Stampede: $1 spent at Stampede = $2.65 spent in Calgary

Fannie Sperry

Lady Bucking Horse Champion of the World

By Terri Mason

acenturyofcowboys0612_18_250Photos courtesy Glenbow Archives

To ensure a great show, Guy Weadick invited the best cowboys, trick riders, ropers and bronc riders from Canada, Mexico and the U.S.—including Fannie Sperry.

Fannie Sperry (1887–1983), was already an award-winning bronc rider and rodeo performer from Montana. In 1904, at the tender age of 17, she had earned the title of Women’s Bucking Horse Champion of Montana, and a reputation for never hobbling her stirrups. (At the time, a common practice for female rodeo riders was to “hobble” or tie the stirrups together under the horse’s belly for greater stability. Judges allowed this for women with no penalties.) Fannie thought the practice was unfair to the horse because it didn’t have a fair chance of throwing off the rider.

Rodeo is a dangerous sport, and amidst all the noise and excitement of the first Stampede, a pall hung over the contestants before the rodeo began. Popular bronc rider, Joe LaMar, had been thrown and then stomped to death earlier by a bronc named Red Wing.

As the contestants lined up to draw the name of the horse they would ride, it was Fannie Sperry who drew the already-notorious Red Wing. Though she had the right to refuse and draw another, Fannie never turned down a horse. In front of a nervous crowd, the “lovely slip of a girl” made a winning ride on the outlaw and the crowd exploded into a whistling, cheering, tearful, standing ovation. She earned the title of Lady Bucking Horse Champion of the World, along with $1,000 cash, a $300 gold belt buckle, a beautiful saddle with hand-tooled roses, and an honoured place in Calgary Stampede folklore.

Sperry competed for the last time in 1925 at Bozeman, and continued riding exhibitions into her 50s. She did not completely retire from riding until 1974, when at the age of 87 she entered a rest home in Helena, Montana.

She was inducted into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame (2009), the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth (1978) and was one of the first women inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame (1975) in Oklahoma City. Fannie died a rodeo legend in 1983.

For more on her life, read the book: The Lady Rode Bucking Horses; the Story of Fannie Sperry-Steele.

Stampede School

By Anita Crowshoe

acenturyofcowboys0612_17_250Photos courtesy iStockphoto

At Stampede School, teachers, students and parent volunteers are immersed in exploration, observation and deep learning. Together, they delve into a world of history, agriculture and Western heritage at Stampede Park.

At Stampede School students and teachers relocate their classrooms to Stampede Park for five days to experience deep and innovative learning, and to promote a lasting understanding of Western heritage and values.

Deep learning takes time, connections to the real world and connections to prior learning. Stampede School’s emphasis on observation, writing and drawing skills allows students, teachers and parents to slow down and consider what they are learning.

Learning goes far beyond five days at Stampede School. Their week reflects the work the teacher and their students are doing in the classroom, making connections across curricular areas so students, and their teachers, will come away with a deeper understanding of Calgary Stampede, Western heritage and our city.

As one Grade Five teacher remarked; “This experience helped students to make connections with what they had learned in class; the importance of ranching and agriculture in the history of Calgary [and] the significant Albertans who are important to the history of the Province.”


Authentic Experiences

  • Learn about the importance of horses in the West, horse body language and, best of all, enjoy an opportunity to assist in the grooming and care of the horses under the guidance of an expert;
  • Delve into the relationship between Calgary Stampede and Treaty 7 First Nations and their roles in preserving and promoting traditional culture;
  • Explore western culture through the eyes of artists, cowboys, poets and chuckwagon drivers;
  • Investigate Alberta’s rich agricultural history and observe the intricacies and history of agriculture.

Pride vs Politics

By Terri Mason

acenturyofcowboys0612_23_250Photo Courtesy Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede’s first parade of 1912 must have been quite a sight when some 1,800 First Nations led the celebration through the downtown streets. Riding in full force and full regalia, the band members were resplendent in intricate beadwork and headdresses, mounted on gleaming, snorting horses.

It was, by all accounts, the first time residents and visitors to the young prairie town of Calgary had seen a spectacle so grand and majestic, and they were the hit of the show. The teepee camp on the Stampede grounds hosted a steady stream of visitors, mesmerized by the dances and drumming.

Guy Weadick was right. He had insisted that the First Nations be a large part of the first Stampede and he personally invited the surrounding bands to attend. This was no small feat as Weadick and the First Nations participants were flying in the face of the Federal Government and The Indian Act of 1876, which seemed to be bent on destroying First Nations culture.

In 1885 The Act was amended to prohibit religious ceremonies (such as potlatches) and dances. Ten years later in 1895, The Act was again amended, this time to outlaw all dances, ceremonies and festivals that involved the wounding of animals or humans, (Sundance) or the giving away of money or goods (Grass Dance).

acenturyofcowboys0612_24_250Photo Courtesy Calgary Stampede

Two short years after the triumph of Calgary, in 1914 The Indian Act of 1876 was once again amended, this time to require western Indians to seek official permission before appearing in “aboriginal costume” in any “dance, show, exhibition, stampede or pageant.”

The Stampede became an annual event in 1923 and, like the first Stampede of 1912 and now a century later, the First Nations people are still a much-welcomed, popular and vibrant part of the celebration—and the Indian Act be damned.


Indian Village Lifestyle

acenturyofcowboys0612_22_250Photo Courtesy Calgary Stampede

For the 10 days of Stampede, the tribes of Treaty 7, represented by the Nakoda (Stoney), Kainai (Blood), Siksika (Blackfoot), Peigan, Piikani and Tsuu Tina (Sarcee) Indians raise their teepees and re-enact life as it once was. They demonstrate games, dancing and meat-cutting skills. At certain times during the day their teepees, a showcase of family history and artifacts, are opened to the public for an open house.

Throughout the Village, arts and crafts are exhibited and available for purchase along with bannock, a staple of the Indian diet.

In the Village there is an outdoor stage where the Stampede Pow Wow is held. This is a dance competition, attracting some of the best Native dancers from both sides of the Medicine Line who are competing for tens of thousands of dollars in prize money.