Calgary Stampede 2012

Countless visitors have been enjoying endless special events to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the city’s stampede. With something for everyone, tourists and hometown revelers enjoy free breakfasts; snack on hi-cal, decadent delights; and gaze into the night sky to marvel at spectacular fireworks.

Personally, I enjoy wandering the midway even though I am not as adventurous as the thousands of young people who climb on seemingly death-defying rides.
Born and raised in Alberta, I sincerely respect the athletes who impress crowds with their saddle and bareback riding, barrel racing, steer-wrestling and calf roping. For many, the thrill of seeing the chucks reaffirms the talents of outstanding wagon drivers such as King Kelly Sutherland. And this year in Calgary, we have marveled at how early photographers captioned the action-filled events throughout the century.

For me, however, I am reminded of our limited understanding of “stampede” history. A few years ago, I wrote a book called Awed, Amused and Alarmed: Fairs, Rodeos and Regattas in Western Canada. I love historical research, and not surprisingly, the Calgary Stampede’s history was high on my list of research topics. Now, every time I see the photos of Guy Weadick, I try not to think about the ways that history has been adapted to suit the myths we want to believe.

Like others, I think Weadick is a handsome portrayal of cowboys and ranching sports, and I am always drawn to the photo of him is his “ten-gallon” cowboy hat. But to give him so much credit for the first Calgary Stampede is to revise some of its fine and fascinating history.
In fact, I am torn. Do I simply let everyone enjoy the photos of him and the myths we have built around him? Or do I suggest the even more fascinating history that connects us to one of the greatest wild west shows in North American history?

Yes, I have read Weadick’s essay, “How I Started the Calgary Stampede.” However, in the process of writing my books, I have interviewed countless individuals concerning their life stories. What people recount concerning their lives is generally how they want others to remember events. Not surprisingly, that can be biased. And often, their recollections are not the same as the way the broader public of the time perceived events.

Outstanding academic historians spend their lives engaged in far more in-depth research than I have managed for my public history books, but I have researched in enough depth to realize that Weadick’s essay omits some of the most fascinating aspects of that first stampede.

In my next blog, I’ll talk more about the recounting of life stories and history as related to Weadick and the Calgary Stampede. I did decide that the upcoming blog is better timing for my comments. That way, we can thoroughly enjoy a wonderful weekend focused on celebrating the festivities and glimpses of history as presented this centennial year.

However, if you are interested in life story or additional background to the Calgary Stampede, as well as in our ties to Vancouver’s summer exhibitions and the Manitoba Stampede & Exhibition (July 19-22, 2012), check next week’s blog.

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