John Ware: Reclaimed

Photo courtesy The National Film Board

All Westerners worth their salt know the story of legendary cowboy and rancher John Ware. He arrived in Alberta, a freed slave who had earned the respect and friendship — and a job at the Bar U Ranch — while trailing cattle on a drive to Alberta. It wasn’t long before he had his own ranch and now his life is the subject of a feature film being shot on the original Ware homestead.

Cheryl Foggo, the Calgary writer behind the National Film Board production, previously explored Ware’s story in a play but her fascination with Alberta’s most famous cowboy remained.

“He’s really just an amazing person and there’s always more for me to discover as I go along,” she said of her upcoming movie. “This film aims to correct some misconceptions about John Ware, so everything in this film is as true to his real life as I can possibly make it. It’s based on the best knowledge that I have today.”

Fred Whitfield, who plays Ware, is tailor-made for the role. A household name to rodeo fans, Whitfield himself is one of rodeo’s superstars with a build that equals Ware’s large frame. Whitfield has won seven World Tie-Down Roping Championships, the World All-Around and three NFR aggregate titles and in 2004, was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Whitfield says it’s an honour to be cast in a role that resonates with his own life. “I came up in the sport of rodeo when it was predominantly white and there were challenges for me,” he said.

“Challenges” is an understatement. In 1996, Whitfield received threats on his life from three bull riders and hired bodyguards to accompany him to the NFR, where he again won the World title. (One of the most compelling rodeo books out there is Gold Buckles Don’t Lie: The Untold Tale of Fred Whitfield.)

John Ware: Reclaimed, presented by the National Film Board of Canada, will first be shown at the major film festivals next summer. We will keep you informed about an impending theatrical release.