Category Archives: Characters or Real People

Finding characters & writing about people

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.

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Rendezvous

Serial publication of longer works has existed since before Dickens’ time. Today, publishers might ask, “Is serialization still an option?”

My answer is, “Yes, especially on the web.” In fact, web designers prefer short passages, subtitles, photographs or other methods to keep general readers involved but not weary-eyed reading page after page of text.

 To follow up on my belief in reprints and serialization, I’m republishing a work that I believe deserves attention. “Rendezvous on the Peace,” by Shirlee Smith Matheson, was first published by the Chinook Branch of the Alberta Historical Society in the newsletter History Now (ca.1994) It is an example of nonfiction in which the descriptive and poetic language is moving. Part I of the work reprinted below offers setting and context. Next week, Part II will provide glimpses of history, and the following week, Part III becomes reflective, returning readers to setting. Yet, both the creative reflections and vivid descriptions seem related to photography concepts. To begin, this week, enjoy the fine use of language.

Rendezvous on the Peace

by Shirlee Smith Matheson

Part 1

 The river wends its way forever and forever

Its ripples splash to dampen shoring rocks.

It knew no master, this, the Peace so mighty

When it was harnessed not by dams or locks.

Poem by Earl Kitchener Pollon, co-author with Shirlee Smith Matheson, This Was Our Valley (Detselig Enterprises, Calgary, 1989, reprint 1993)

We leave at dusk to travel 90 miles up the Peace River from Hudson’s Hope, BC, to Finlay Forks.  Ken Kyllo is captain of this 26-foot jet boat powered by an Olds 455-cubic-inch engine and assures me he’s made this trip thousands of times, day and night.

I’ve often heard of Finlay Forks – the point where the Finlay River flowing from the north joins the Parsnip River from the south to become the mighty Peace.  That energetic offspring plunges through the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains, races northward for 2,600 miles and crosses the finish line to pour its waters into the Bering Sea.  Now, however, the energy of the Peace is harnessed by two (perhaps soon to be three) hydro-electric dams, and so this portion of the river on which we are travelling tonight is called simply the Peace Arm, an extension of the dams’ reservoir named for a former politician, Ray Williston.

I’ve been invited to read from my books written about this place and its people, namely This Was Our Valley and Youngblood of the Peace.  My reading is part of the welcome celebrations planned at the Forks for 23 voyageurs from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, who have spent four years retracing the historic voyages of Sir Alexander Mackenzie.  Their three canoes have already traversed the Peace Arm that we are jet-boating over tonight.

The evening sun turns the water to a shimmering mirror and the surrounding cut banks to golden walls topped with a dark green fringe of forest.  Ken Kyllo maneuvers the large boat around “deadhead” logs partly submerged in water and other dangerous debris. Several times he stops the boat to remove sticks from the engine’s jets.

Gold is a word often associated with the Peace River in days gone by, bringing hopeful prospectors and equally excited homesteaders.  One of the most famous families was the Beatties who built a magnificent ranch at Gold Bar.  Now the homesteads are all gone, submerged by the waters of Williston Lake.