What’s New, What’s Not, What’s Next?

Yes, it is a cliché, but life happens, and life gets in the way of life. But here I am again. What’s new? Well, I have definitely been preoccupied, and writing has not been my preoccupation. However, it is possible that writing is again on the horizon.

This year, my 90-year-old mom fell and broke five ribs. For her and for the family, nothing has been easy. My husband has had continuing health problems, too, and for me, family is first. Friends are second, and the rest of life, including books and writing comes somewhere after those. In fact, I am not expecting circumstances to change in a dramatic manner. However, my experience is that when we understand what is happening, we are better able to manage situations.

But here I am—at least for now. And I do have plans for the blog and other writing projects. As for blogging, I am going to be flexible, with a new posting every few weeks. Maybe it will be every week for a while, but then again, who knows? Also, I will embrace flexibility regarding topics. They will still focus on those pursuits I love, but I am not saying which topic will be which week. You might see three posts about history, a few about writing, others about photography, and some just because I or someone I know feels like talking about a subject.

Finally, I am having events/news on my website updated, too. So, if you are in the Calgary area and interested in knowing about sales in the area, I have information there. Also, there you will find the descriptions of some upcoming writing workshops. One is even online, so it doesn’t matter where you live. Here, I’ll post more on those later, too.

Given all that, here I am. Next week, we’ll talk summer events: rodeos, stampedes, fairs and exhibitions, and I have a special offer for you concerning one of my books. It is a vote of thanks, and it is buy one, get one free event. So, check back soon.

Treasured Books

Books have always been part of Christmas for many of us. There are the books we buy for others, the books we receive from others, the books we read to our children and the Good Book. All are important though for such different reasons.

I admit my own personal reading habits keep changing. Some books I will always keep, not because I will ever read them again but because they are a reminder of things I have treasured, beliefs I have held or continue to hold, have been gifts to me by friends or have been written by friends. And some books have become keep sakes because they have seemingly been in the family forever.

Most of us have copies of The Night Before Christmas, and if it is an old copy and we read it to the young ones in the family, carrying on a tradition that was past from parents or grandparents to ourselves. It is particularly reassuring to pick up the book. For those reading from a family Bible, the meaning goes far beyond the significance of those childhood favourites.

Nothing I have ever written or could ever write comes close to such experiences. However, when I glance through Western Canadian public history books that I gave my father for birthdays and Christmases, I feel closer to him. He enjoyed those books, and after his passing, they returned to me. In fact, in glancing through those books and making selections for him over the years, I became more and more captivated by the same topic.

One of my favourites

One of my favourites

Important ones for me were Salt of the Earth: The Story of Homesteaders in Western Canada by Heather Robinson, and A Harvest Yet to Reap by Rasmassen, Rasmussen, Savage & Wheeler. I loved these books, and I return to them often when doing my research. Both are available on Amazon, and I realize how important online availability has become.

I have also decided to register and sell my books on Amazon. There is a time when it is important to move ahead, move along with contemporary technologies and new ways of doing things. What better time than with Christmas and the upcoming new year. As a result, if you are looking for something about the “old days” in Western Canada, I might have the gift book for the seniors in your life. You can find them on Amazon.ca or my website.

Beginning Again With Christmas

I’m sending my best wishes to you for a happy holiday season. Since it is the festive season, to acknowledge its importance, I am coming back to  my blog. As I have said before, life fills up, and there never seems enough time for everything. However, after a long time of not finding the time in life to write, I am hoping this effort takes me back to my continued passion for our shared past and the process of writing. For this blog, I am starting with our public history, and the following is an excerpt from Sharing the Good Times: A History of Prairie Women’s Joys and Pleasure, a book intended to balance our views about our pioneer women. Yes, they endured seemingly endless hard work, but also, they knew how to celebrate the occasions that were so very special to them. I am publishing some of the section throughout the holiday season. Have a look and come back next week for more on the holidays.

Our friend’s Christmas village conveys a sense of community. Photo by W.H. Holt

Holiday Festivities

In the past, the calendar was filled with festive days for ordinary people, too.  The special holidays mean good times for the entire family. The fall harvest was celebrated at fall fairs and Thanksgiving, but even more important festive occasions were all the other traditional, religious holidays.

The holidays, their dates and the traditional activities associated with them varied with the homeland and cultural background of families. The exact dates for Christmas festivities varied for Eastern Orthodox and other Christians; but for most of the population, there were Christmas and Easter celebrations. Jews observed Passover, Hanukkah and other dates of religious significance. The Chinese celebrated New Years on a different day than most other western Canadians.

Special church services, gatherings and sometimes concerts were part of the religious and observances, but the good food and special, traditional dishes were highlights of the day. And food was in the realm of women’s work and women’s culture. Cooking for such occasions was a great deal of work, but to many, the role was a form of participation in the religious and family life that was treasured. Even the baking of bread became more than part of physical well-being. For important religious observations, bread–whether leavened or unleavened, a plain loaf or a braided one–was essential as a symbol.

And symbols are important to all of us at this very special time of year.

sharing72From: Sharing the Good Times: A History of Prairie Women’s Joys and Pleasures (To purchase or for further information, see my updated website: www.wordsandhistory.ca or go to Amazon.ca and search for me or the book title)

Guy Weadick & the Calgary Stampede: Fact or Fiction or a Little of Both

I have tried to make the complicated Guy Weadick story into a short blog, but that hasn’t worked for me. When people tell their own stories or we tell the life stories of those we want as heroes, sometimes the complications and most interesting developments are omitted or remain untold. So, here is my uncensored, unauthorized version of events.

After extensive research, I determined that others were equally or more important in the development of the Calgary Stampede than was Guy Weadick. For instance, in 1912, the Miller Brothers 101 Wild West Show, which employed Weadick, seemingly primarily because he was announcer and agent for the famous steer wrestler Bill Picket, had recently returned from a tour of  Europe but with less money in pockets than expected. At the time, performers and competitors such as Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix, Flore la Due (Weadick’s wife), Bertha Blanchette, Goldie St, Clair, and Helen Gibson and other famous faces were with the show, and everyone needed money. If venues added cowboy competitions to the performances, the Wild West Shows entrants could keep their winnings as long as they paid their own fees. If the Miller Brothers paid the entrance fees, the show took 50% of the winnings. So, adding cowboy competitions to any performance or performing at an event with previously planned competitions was an enormous plus for everyone.

Generally, from May to November, the Miller brothers arranged tours throughout North America. For July of 1912, they scheduled performances in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert. Also, the Wild West Show was part of Winnipeg’s phenomenal 1912 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Selkirk settlers. For such events, the 101 provided the First Nation’s village and countless parade participants, performers and competitors. Because the entire show–including over 1000 people and about 600 head of livestock–travelled by train, a performance in Calgary made sense.

Unfortunately, E.L. Richardson, long-time manager for the Calgary Exhibition, had already booked the exhibition grounds with the Western Canadian Fair and Racing Circuit. However, a later date was feasible and supported by Richardson. So, Weadick, who already knew some of the organizers from the 1908 event and from a previous visit to the province, became agent or front man to raise money for the Calgary stop.

H.C. Mullens, general livestock manager for the Canadian Pacific Railway, had much to gain by having the show visit Calgary. Texas-born, university-educated, Alberta rancher Addison Day of Medicine Hat–who would later be nominated to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame–had organized many competitions for rodeos or “stampedes.” In fact, the word stampede, itself, was an Americanized Spanish word in common use and with a history of its own stretching back to the  early 1800s.  Certainly, Day not only wanted a Calgary stampede, he was willing to put up $10,000 to make it happen. So, Day and Mullens introduced Weadick to men with money. And the Big Four: George Lane, Archie McLean, Pat Burns and A.E. Cross were happy to help preserve and support cowboys and the ranching way of life. They put up the huge purses so competitions could be held during the event. The Big Four had only one condition: the competitions must be open to everyone–that is to the world. So the competitions became World Championships.

Not surprisingly, competitors travelling with the 101 Wild West Show claimed most of the prize money. And fast-talking Weadick proved to be a great announcer and promoter. Later, in the 1920s when he and La Due bought a ranch near High River, Weadick was hired by the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede to announce, promote and help organize events.

In the following years, he did encourage fellow performers from 101 days to compete and perform at Calgary, but crediting the visionary Miller brothers and their show, E.L. Richardson or Addison Day never seemed to make it into his memoirs.

Yes, he loved to tell stories–especially about himself–and he could talk the ear off an elephant. As well, he could down more booze that most men. And in the 1930s, a disillusioned  and inebriated Weadick stepped into the Calgary Stampede arena. He denounced the event and those who actually did the work to keep make the stampede the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” That day, he lost his job.

Having long claimed that the Calgary Stampede was all “his” doing, he filed a wrongful dismissal suit. He did convince a judge that drinking was an required part of his job, and given the partying associated our contemporary festivities, perhaps he was right. Also, he sued  the Calgary Stampede, maintaining that the Calgary could not keep the name since it he owned the copyright. The judge ruled that the word stampede had long been in popular use throughout western Canada, and Weadick lost the suit.

Once Weadick’s  truly talented and ever-patient wife, Flore La Due s died, he moved back to the U.S.A. rather than stay as a Calgary Stampede booster.

So, personally, I’d rather celebrate Calgary’s own phenomenal organizer and visionary Ernie Richardson and Medicine Hat’s Addison Day. Also, I’ll take our historical links to the world famous Miller Brothers 101 Wild West Show over the Guy myth.  In the countless books written regarding that world famous travelling show with its champion competitors, showmanship events and ranch (which became a National Historic Site in the USA), Weadick was hardly worth a footnote. But I suppose the photos of Weadick in his cowboy hat have served publicists and promoters very well. And given the work of others, today, the Calgary Stampede truly is world famous.

When writing and retelling life stories, sometimes, we prefer to see heroes rather than do all the required research to tell the stories more accurately.  Often, research uncovers human failings, but they, too, are part of our history and reflect broader truths. So, if anyone wants to continue to research Weadick or search for the what you believe to be be fact, fiction or truth in the life stories,  I encourage you.  Remember, sometimes biographies and autobiographies seem to include a little of both. Most of us as writers, including myself, attempt to be accurate but there are no guarantees.