Category Archives: OUR HISTORY, OUR STORIES

How to find, understand and perserve our past

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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Calgary: A Week Celebrating Our History

Historic Calgary Week is on the horizon, and 2015 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of event. So, what a great year to participate in the vast array of scheduled programs!

As a nonfiction author, I need knowledge or “content” for my writing. Western Canadian history is an important to my work, but also, that history has also been an inspiration to me. Yes, nonfiction writers are certainly content providers. However, ideally, the content we choose will not only be interesting to our readers, it will fascinate us as writers and support our future goals.

See the Famous Five statues downtown or attend the Walk and Talk regarding these amazing women at Heritage Park on July 28.

See the Famous Five statues downtown or attend the Walk & Talk for these amazing women at Heritage Park, July 28.

For me, filling my head with our history is a way of providing options and opportunities for me in the future. Sometimes writers work within the context of their own time and place; sometimes they need a sense of the past or other geographical locations. Yet, for writers who set at least some of their works in western Canada during the early days, attending events during Historic Calgary Week is a great way to discover or rediscover the way things were.

From July 23 to August 3, writers, history buffs, visitors and locals will be treated to a glimpse of  the “insider” stories from days gone by. Topics are so varied, I can’t begin to list them all. However, whether you are interested in effects of the ice age or prefer tea and a talk at the Palliser Hotel, the options are extensive. Tour our cemeteries and gardens. Check out Bricks, Business and Bowness or Salute to the Stones of Signal Hill. With all that alliteration, clearly, writers are being welcomed. In fact, if you are interested in our lesser-known stories of murder and misdemeanours, spend your Friday evening enjoying that tour. It, too, might just inspire the writer within. However, for this and some other events, you will need to pre-register.

For more information, go to http://www.chinookcountry.org and check out The Week At A Glance for an overall schedule. More information can be found in the online or printed “pamphlet” of detailed descriptions. Events are scheduled throughout the city, and a few are hosted in surrounding communities.

Alberta Prairie Railway & Fairs: Always a Hit

I recently returned from being a guest with Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions in my hometown of Stettler, Alberta. I loved the train ride, and I celebrated my mom’s family roots in Big Valley, the destination station for the excursion. The village was celebrating its 100th anniversary, and I showed some Powerpoint images and talked to visitors during the stop-over. I highly recommend the excursion for train buffs and those who enjoy wandering through the small villages that are a vibrant part of our rural heritage. There is plenty of time. So check out www.absteamtrain.com.

AB Prairie Railway 1991

My first trip on APRE, 1991

I was first on the train in 1991. Two years previous, Bob Willis and Don Gillespie, both of Stettler, made their dream of operating a heritage train come true. After 25 years, they have made their own history, and their trains attract countless visitors.

Honoured to be on the train this year, the journey brought to mind some earlier writing I did for Awed, Amused and Alarmed.  Bob’s grandfather owned the local paper, the Stettler Independent, and he covered local events. In the summer, the fair and rodeo were important events to the community.  Mr. Charles L. Willis seemed to be was one of the few newspaper men who wrote about women’s participation. In the 1930s, not surprisingly, much of their participation meant volunteering or submitting to the “homemaking” competitions. Willis’s work was true to the time frame, but I remember having a laugh when reading his coverage. He wrote:

“No mere man can afford to give a description of  the Ladies’ Work….” the newspaperman wrote. With a tongue-in-cheek tone, he continued, “He is quite incapable for the job…. For example, what does he know about pillow slips except as a place to lay his head on. His ignorance of embroidery work, of crochet work, or of tatting particularly is colossal. All he knows is that the work looks good and is good, while in the case of the cooking department it also tastes good.”

The viewpoint was standard for the time, but his humor was most enjoyable.

“Unfortunately, from one standpoint, most of the prize winners were married,” he wrote. “This is satisfactory as far as it goes but gives no opportunity to build up the community by paving the way for future weddings. The single girls have overlooked a golden opportunity in not exhibiting more of their fancy work and cooking at the Exhibition. There should be special prizes for their class at the next Fair.” (Awed, Amused & Alarmed, 122)

For all who help organize such community events, compete in them or volunteer, I am offering a special price for Awed, Amused and Alarmed. Go to my website; purchase one copy, and I’ll mail you an extra for the same price. It’s the Buy 1, Get 1 Free concept. Request as many as you want, but order a specific number, and I’ll add your free copies to the package (eg. order 2, I’ll send 4, but you pay for 2). This applies only to Awed, Amused & Alarmed. Order through my website at www.wordsandhistory.ca and pay with Paypal or email me with your order. The offer ends October 1!

Pioneer Acres: A Great Farm History Event

Friday, August 8 to Sunday, August 10, 2014, 9 am – 5 pm daily, I will be at Pioneer Acres Annual Reunion and Show just north of Irricana, AB. During the event known as the “The Old Time Show Where There’s Always Something New,” you can enjoy a parade, field demonstrations including horse-drawn plowing, cultivating, and binder work. As well, check out steam-driven plowing and threshing, pioneer exhibits and races.

Threshing with Family Sm Fx 2

Compliments: Shirlee Smith Matheson. Check out Shirlees’ upcoming events on http://www.ssmatheson.ca

The first time I was at the Pioneer Acres event was a number of years ago and being there was such a pleasure. Like most women. I am not really a heavy machinery buff, but I have to say, watching all the events was fascinating. There were steam engines, threshing displays and a sincere commitment to saving our history among all the organizers and participants.

I was raised on a farm in Alberta, and my dad was interested in the history of the area. He had started farming with the threshing crew on our farm, and because harvest ended so late that year, it was too late (at least in someone’s mind) for him to go back to school. So, that harvest likely changed his life.

To purchase this book check out my website at http://www.wordsandhistory.ca

To purchase this book check out my website at http://www.wordsandhistory.ca

Somehow his respect for our past and the history of families in our area rubbed off on me. As a result, I wrote two “farm” books, one Threshing: The Early Years of Harvesting, and the other Monarchs of the Fields: the History of the Combine Harvester. My dad past away before the books were published, but when I am at Pioneer Acres, he will be on my mind when I meet so many people like him, people who truly care about preserving our past. And perhaps, I will meet you there, too.

If you are one of the many who help organize such community events, volunteer or share your knowledge of our shared past in other ways, I am offering a two for the price of one for Awed, Amused and Alarmed. Check out my website; purchase one copy, and I’ll mail you an extra for the same price. Order a specific number, and I’ll add your free copies to the package (eg. order 2, I’ll send 4, but you pay for 2). But this applies only to Awed, Amused & Alarmed. Order through my website and pay with Paypal or email me with your order before October 1!

For more information, see http://www.pioneeracres.ab.ca