Category Archives: Famous People

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.

Backstory & Lifestory: Good Old Guy Weadick

Certainly, far more than 100 memorable moments will go down in Stampede history concerning the 1912 centennial. With Claresholm cowboy Chad Besplug winning the title of World Champion Bull Rider, we have much to celebrate. Also, we have many to thank including other fabulous competitors and stock suppliers, volunteers and paid organizers, entertainers and exhibitors (whether agricultural or artistic), which made the centennial a fabulous success.

However, when I consider good old Guy Weadick and the attention he received, I have some qualms, and so as not to put a damper on festivities, I’m glad to writing about him after the last of the fireworks have filled the night sky. Time and again, Weadick recounted how he started the Calgary Stampede, but what did he omit from his story?

That he would omit relevant information is not unusual. When people tell their live stories, they focus on some memories, ignore others and perhaps even invent scenarios. Seldom, if ever, do we as readers or listeners discover the whole truth as perceived by impartial observers.

Research involving many sources is far more likely to reveal the true or real story. Of course, I admit to having my own limitations and biases, but as someone who loves research, I feel that I treated that history in a reasonable manner in my book Awed, Amused and Alarmed: Fairs, Rodeos and Regattas in Western Canada. I admit that, knowing Weadick was a hero to many Albertans, I treated him with kid gloves. Instead of saying, “Here is the lowdown on Guy Weadick” and offering one tell-all expose, I offered glimpses of his life story in various relevant chapters.

Born in Rochester New York in 1886, as an older teenager, Guy claims to have visited and worked in Montana and Southern Alberta, and those adventures included a witnessing huge powwow in Lethbridge. Also, he developed an acceptable vaudeville roping act and perform as Cheyenne Bill. While on the vaudeville circuit, he met Bill Picket, the world famous bulldogger or steer wrestler who hired Weadick as agent and announcer. Finally, Weadick’s career options had improved. Touring with Crestwell and Osborne, they performed at the Calgary Exhibition in 1905.

By then, the Buffalo Bill Wild West show was in decline, and the Miller Brothers 101 Wild West Show had garnered the spotlight. From Oklahoma, the outstanding 101 Wild West Show wanted Picket, and Weadick was part of the deal. Over the years, the show would tour throughout the United States, Europe, South America and Canada, and the two men were with part of the entertainment. In 1908, travelling in 45 railcars, the Wild West Show was scheduled for both Winnipeg and Calgary. That year, Calgary staged the Dominion Exhibition under the capable and watchful eye of organizer and administrator E.L. Richardson. Along with First Nations and NWMP, the 101 Show (including Picket, Weadick and its other stars) marched and rode in the impressive parade Not surprisingly, festival visitors from all over Canada enjoyed performances and competitions.

By the time the 1908 Dominion Exhibition was staged, the story of agricultural fairs and contests was already an old one in Western Canada. The first Calgary Exhibition was in 1886. Cowboy competitions have an equally long or longer history, and gymkhanas and rodeos were an early hit with many local audiences. Alberta’s formal rodeo history has roots in the 1891 at Fort Macleod rodeo when events were held in conjunction with the fall fair. As early as 1893, for the summer agricultural fair in Calgary, a steer roping event was organized by George Lane of the Bar U Ranch. Forward thinking Ad Day, with roots in Texas and Oklahoma, had been instrumental in organizing the 1908 Dominion Exhibition in Calgary, following up with great, successful competitions and events in Medicine Hat, and in the meantime E. L. Richardson, what we could call a “suit” today, kept the fun and competition going year after year in Calgary.

So, what happened in 1912 to make this a centennial year? In fact, all of those early organizers played essential roles for the “first” Calgary Stampede? And what exactly was Weadick’s contribution to the event and to later-day stampede history? According to him, the Stampede was his vision. But, according to my research, Weadick had a knack for exaggeration.

In fact, I had wanted capture the tale in a few hundred words, but life stories are often complicated. Sometimes the most interesting aspects of the stories are left out, which seemed to the case when it came to Guy’s boasts regarding The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

So, if you are interested, join me next week when the plot thickens.

Karsh: Regarding Heroes

Great photos, history and words surrounded me in the gallery at Glenbow Museum. The black and white portraits by the famous Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002) gave life to celebrated individuals of the 20th Century, and the experience of viewing this exhibition was inspiring for me. 

The first Karsh photograph I ever saw was of American novelist Ernest Hemingway. In that image, fans of the great story-teller see an outdoorsman, but his handsome, masculine face also shows an amazing sensitivity. As a fan of Hemingway’s history-related novels, A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls, I felt that I actually knew Hemingway once I saw the Karsh image.

Audrey Hepburn © Estate of Yousuf Karsh, Photo Compliments Glenbow Museum

One hundred Karsh portraits are included in Glenbow’s exhibition. The portraits of Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King and Albert Einstein have become legendary and offer glimpses of history. Photos of Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn reveal that these stunning and popular actresses also possessed inner beauty. In fact, Karsh’s portraits seem to capture the very souls of the 20th Century’s most renowned thinkers, artists, writers, musicians, innovators, philosophers and healers.

Facial expressions in the Karsh photos are fascinating, too. Sophia Loren and Rudolf Nureyev smile playfully, and with other subjects, faint smiles are sometimes discernable. Yet, most photographs present serious and contemplative moments in these great lives.

From a writer’s perspective, the text accompanying the images was equally fascinating. Just as writers delve into the lives of people, Karsh also researched his subjects. Then, during the portrait sittings, he asked questions or made comments to engage his subjects. Not surprisingly, their true selves emerged for the master photographer.

As well, Karsh knew how to use light and darkness in creating moods and focus. In a few instances, we see some of the rooms in which subjects were photographed, but generally, Karsh used simple black and white backdrops for his subjects. Sometimes, shadows darken parts of the photos, and seemingly, there is a tension or play between what is revealed and what is not revealed. The blacks, whites and greys create textures, and we notice hands, wool, lace, wisps of hair, even eyelashes. The photographer manipulated light—whether from lamps or naturally occurring sources—to accentuate the personalities and inner lives of his subjects, and at least to me, use of light and darkness is much of the genius that is Karsh.

Before leaving the museum, I bought the book Karsh: A Biography in Images with commentary by Jerry Fiedler. In the book’s narrative passages and on gallery wall plaques, Karsh describes his experiences with the world’s iconic figures. Having researched Hemingway’s life and work, the photographer visited the author’s favourite bar and sampled his favourite drink, the daiquiri. He knew that the writer was considered macho, even callous, but when Karsh arrived for the sitting, a surprise awaited him: “I found a man of peculiar gentleness, the shyest man I ever photographed—a man cruelly battered by life, but seemingly invincible.”

As writers, we strive to present the humanity that makes characters real. As history buffs, we learn about individuals who have changed the world, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Through photography, we search for what is unique and what is universal in people. Although famous for his photography, Karsh was a master of all three disciplines.

So, if you want inspiration related to writing, history or photography, visit the Karsh exhibit at Glenbow Museum, Calgary (www.glenbow.org), before it closes on June 15. Curator David Travis from The Art Institute of Chicago has chosen outstanding portraits for the travelling exhibition, and you won’t be disappointed.