Category Archives: Exhibitions, Fairs, Rodeos

Heritage, Rodeos and the Bar U Ranch

Happy Heritage Day! Of course, all of August is a great time to continue celebrating of our heritage. So, why not enjoy the rodeo next weekend at the Bar U Ranch. On August 9th, you can experience the best in Alberta ranch history and take in a  rodeo, too. What combination!

Local cowboy competitions held at various ranches were the real beginnings of rodeo and stampedes throughout the West. The popularity of those community events, which appeared earlier in the USA and spread to western Canada by the last half of the 1800s, was inevitable.

The Bar U Ranch National Historic site is where this old-time, ranch rodeo will be held. Initially owned by the North West Cattle Company, eventually, George Lane purchased all of the holdings of the Bar U. As early as 1893, for the summer agricultural fair in Calgary, George Lane organized a steer roping, and one of his cowboy competitors was John Ware. A black cowboy, Ware worked at the ranch and was known as an outstanding bronc rider. In the steer roping competition, he roped and tied his steer in 51 seconds. Clearly, the Bar U has a long and proud history of rodeo and ranch-related competitions.

Located in Alberta’s scenic foothills, about a 90 minute drive southwest of Calgary, the ranch is west of the junction of Highway 22 and 540. Once you arrive, you will have lots of opportunities to learn about the history of the ranch. Celebrating its 20th year as a Parks Canada historical site, the Bar U is the only national site to commemorate our ranching history.

It remains a working ranch of about 148 hectares (367 acres) with a small cattle herd, saddle horses and some Percherons work horses. As such it is part of our living history. Yet, at one time, the ranch could boast of 160,000 acres of grassland, crucial for grazing the 30,000 head of cattle and 1,000 head of Percherons. Of course, that meant work for countless cowboys. Once the round-ups were done and other work manageable, it was time for the cowboy competitions. But which cowboys and ranches could claim to be the best of the bunch? Serious competition decided bragging rights.

Today, teams of cowboys from various ranches compete in events such as broke horse racing, wild cow milking and team sorting. The winners take home Bar U silver buckles.

That day, I’ll be signing books at the gift shop, so if you plan on attending the event, be sure to drop by and say, “Howdy” or even just “Hi.”

For more information, go to http://www.friendsofthebaru.com. For great photos, click on the photos

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ANNOUNCING: CALGARY STAMPEDE

At the Stampede, sporting events become highlights.

At the Stampede, sporting events are the popular highlights, so popular they become representative sculptures. Photo by Faye Holt

Calgary’s “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” opened on July 3 and runs to July 12, so if you live elsewhere, there is still plenty of time to reach our fair city. If you are a Calgarian, likely at some time during the annual event, you will head down to the grounds and take in some of the events and activities.

The efforts of many go into making it a success. Its long history includes rodeo events, but there have been many, other unsung heroes or “stars.” That includes the announcers who explain events and entertain the thousands who attend the arena events. In Awed, Amused and Alarmed: Fairs, Rodeos and Regattas in Western Canada, I explored a little of their history, and here is what I had to say:

The efforts of many workers are needed to host the Stampede.

Prior to events, the efforts of countless workers are needed to host the Stampede. Photo by Faye Holt

Local auctioneers were great choices for announcer. The auctioneer knew the people, knew livestock, and was never speechless. In Calgary, Josh Henthorn had announced at the first Calgary Stampede in 1912. By 1919, he was a dance instructor in the city, and as a sideline, Henthorn announced at the city’s Victory Stampede….

Warren Cooper was another who found fame announcing for rodeos in southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and BC. Born in Calgary in 1902, Warren was one of nine children. He was slow to find his niche in life, but then, he had a slow and easy-going personality. He became known as “Coop,” to rodeo and auction mart patrons and got along with everyone. He was never in a hurry to get or finish a job, but, in reality, he was always busy. Yet the relaxed image was perfect for his job.

Nanton had become the family home, but his job took him around the country. He had taken an auctioneering course in Idaho and travelled cattle country doing sales. The experience refined his skill at getting the most out of a crowd–the most money and the most good will.

Not surprisingly, those traits lead him to the announcer’s booth at rodeos…..

Always, he had the knack for telling a rodeo yarn. For western Canadian events, he found the perfect balance between folksy and friendly, information and boosterism. He was smart enough to announce details and rules for events, acknowledge the home communities of competitors, pump up expectations, play down failures, and do it all without stepping into the role that was designated to the rodeo judge.

It was a fine line to walk, but announcers helped understand and value events, and organizers knew it. In Calgary and across the country, great announcers such as Ed Whalen became so closely linked with events, local audiences were deeply saddened by their retirements or passing away. But the shows went on, and new voices filled the silence. Today’s announcers face stiff competition from those who preceded them, but with talent and luck, they, too, will make their mark. And all of us who work with audiences can learn from them, whether we are presenting our writing or programs to young and old.