Category Archives: OUR STORIES

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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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!

Celebrating Our Exhibitions, Fairs & Rodeo Roots

Even though the Calgary Stampede, Edmonton’s Klondike Days and Winnipeg’s Red River Ex have ended for the year, it is the season for stampede and exhibition-style competition and fun. On the horizon is Regina Buffalo Days (July 30-Aug 3), but countless stampedes, rodeos and summer fairs draw crowds until fall. Of course, those are followed by other equally great community events.

In my mind, it is a season to thank and celebrate competitors, volunteers and others who make these events happen. Not surprisingly, I plan to do it with books and writing. My book, Awed, Amused and Alarmed is based on the history of fairs, rodeos and exhibitions. In fact, I always considered such events as some of the most important popular culture highlights in the West. Today’s events are fascinating to the crowds and rewarding to competitors. But it takes hard work to make them happen.

awedAA_1_72

Need gifts? Get two for the price of one.

So, this is my way of saying thanks. For anyone who helps organize such events, competes in them or works with the dozens of volunteers needed for success, I am offering a special price for Awed, Amused and Alarmed. Go to my website and purchase one copy, and I’ll mail you an extra for the same price. The concept is similar to Buy 1, Get 1 Free; or Two for the Price of One. You can request as many as you wish, but order a specific number, and I’ll add your free copies to the package (eg. order 2, I’ll send 4, but you will pay for 2). I will even cover any extra shipping due to the added weight.

My special applies only to Awed, Amused & Alarmed, and you have to order through my website and pay with Paypal. The only other option is to email me with your order, and we will discuss payment and delivery. As well, this special ends October 1. Obviously, trust is important. I trust that you are buying them for organizers, participants and volunteers involved in our wonderful community events. And, when you place your order for the books on my website and pay with Paypal, you have to trust that I=ll mail you the number that you ordered plus the extra books. You can order other titles at the same time, but you will receive extra copies only for Awed, Amused & Alarmed.

It’s important to say thanks and to share the fascinating history of our events. Come back next week, and you will see an excerpt from the book, both for your enjoyment and to encourage you to say thanks and share out history.

Beginning Again With Christmas

I’m sending my best wishes to you for a happy holiday season. Since it is the festive season, to acknowledge its importance, I am coming back to  my blog. As I have said before, life fills up, and there never seems enough time for everything. However, after a long time of not finding the time in life to write, I am hoping this effort takes me back to my continued passion for our shared past and the process of writing. For this blog, I am starting with our public history, and the following is an excerpt from Sharing the Good Times: A History of Prairie Women’s Joys and Pleasure, a book intended to balance our views about our pioneer women. Yes, they endured seemingly endless hard work, but also, they knew how to celebrate the occasions that were so very special to them. I am publishing some of the section throughout the holiday season. Have a look and come back next week for more on the holidays.

Our friend’s Christmas village conveys a sense of community. Photo by W.H. Holt

Holiday Festivities

In the past, the calendar was filled with festive days for ordinary people, too.  The special holidays mean good times for the entire family. The fall harvest was celebrated at fall fairs and Thanksgiving, but even more important festive occasions were all the other traditional, religious holidays.

The holidays, their dates and the traditional activities associated with them varied with the homeland and cultural background of families. The exact dates for Christmas festivities varied for Eastern Orthodox and other Christians; but for most of the population, there were Christmas and Easter celebrations. Jews observed Passover, Hanukkah and other dates of religious significance. The Chinese celebrated New Years on a different day than most other western Canadians.

Special church services, gatherings and sometimes concerts were part of the religious and observances, but the good food and special, traditional dishes were highlights of the day. And food was in the realm of women’s work and women’s culture. Cooking for such occasions was a great deal of work, but to many, the role was a form of participation in the religious and family life that was treasured. Even the baking of bread became more than part of physical well-being. For important religious observations, bread–whether leavened or unleavened, a plain loaf or a braided one–was essential as a symbol.

And symbols are important to all of us at this very special time of year.

sharing72From: Sharing the Good Times: A History of Prairie Women’s Joys and Pleasures (To purchase or for further information, see my updated website: www.wordsandhistory.ca or go to Amazon.ca and search for me or the book title)