Category Archives: Heritage Sites

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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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

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.

History Along Highway 22

I can’t count the number of times we have driven along Highway 22 from Calgary south to Lundbreck before turning onto the Crowsnest Highway (Hwy 3). This magnificent stretch offers views of prairie, foothills and Rocky Mountain peaks. It is part of Cowboy Trail from Mayerthorpe in the north to Pincher Creek in the south, but you can also make your way farther south to Waterton and Cardston.

You may be so taken with the scenery that you don’t realize how much of Alberta’s history has played out in the area. Fur traders, First Nations, cowboys and settlers have travelled this ancient route. Today, towns along the way such as Turner Valley, Black Diamond and Longview, welcome visitors, and a short distance away Pincher Creek and Fort MacLeod have historical bragging rights, too.

 Turner Valley is the location of some of the earliest petroleum development in the province. Longview has long welcomed cowboys, cowboy historians and Hollywood movie makers. The discovery of coal in the late 1800s gave Black Diamond its name, and the town of Pincher Creek took its name from the creek where, in 1868, prospectors found hoof pincers, a tool used in shoeing and trimming horses’ hooves.

Still, always present in my own mind when I travel this highway are the stories of the Bar U Ranch and of Doukhobors. Today, the Bar U is an historical site open to the public, and for those interested in ranch history, it is a must-see.

Less evident but equally important is the Doukhobor history of the area. I look from farm to farm and wonder if that Russian heritage still lives in these homes. With ties to the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoi (also spelled Tolstoy), the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood began settling in the Lundbreck and Cowley areas between 1915 and 1917. After Doukhobors had moved from Saskatchewan to B.C., the elders realized that they needed farms closer to their B.C. orchards to provide beef, grain and other farm produce. Fourteen farmers and their families made the move to Alberta. Eventually thirteen villages were established in the province with four in the Lundbreck area and five near Cowley.

By the late 1930s, the sect was breaking up. Some families farmed for themselves, and others took various jobs, but their fascinating history remains. The Alberta Doukhobors have a cemetery near Lundbreck, but you can also check out their history by visiting the Doukhobor Genealogy Website (www.doukhobor.org). Just recently, I watched a television documentary called My Doukhobor Cousins. I highly recommend it, so watch for a rebroadcast. And, if you have the chance, take a trip along Highway 22. Both the landscape and history are inspiring.