Tag Archives: Calgary Stampede

ANNOUNCING: CALGARY STAMPEDE

At the Stampede, sporting events become highlights.

At the Stampede, sporting events are the popular highlights, so popular they become representative sculptures. Photo by Faye Holt

Calgary’s “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” opened on July 3 and runs to July 12, so if you live elsewhere, there is still plenty of time to reach our fair city. If you are a Calgarian, likely at some time during the annual event, you will head down to the grounds and take in some of the events and activities.

The efforts of many go into making it a success. Its long history includes rodeo events, but there have been many, other unsung heroes or “stars.” That includes the announcers who explain events and entertain the thousands who attend the arena events. In Awed, Amused and Alarmed: Fairs, Rodeos and Regattas in Western Canada, I explored a little of their history, and here is what I had to say:

The efforts of many workers are needed to host the Stampede.

Prior to events, the efforts of countless workers are needed to host the Stampede. Photo by Faye Holt

Local auctioneers were great choices for announcer. The auctioneer knew the people, knew livestock, and was never speechless. In Calgary, Josh Henthorn had announced at the first Calgary Stampede in 1912. By 1919, he was a dance instructor in the city, and as a sideline, Henthorn announced at the city’s Victory Stampede….

Warren Cooper was another who found fame announcing for rodeos in southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and BC. Born in Calgary in 1902, Warren was one of nine children. He was slow to find his niche in life, but then, he had a slow and easy-going personality. He became known as “Coop,” to rodeo and auction mart patrons and got along with everyone. He was never in a hurry to get or finish a job, but, in reality, he was always busy. Yet the relaxed image was perfect for his job.

Nanton had become the family home, but his job took him around the country. He had taken an auctioneering course in Idaho and travelled cattle country doing sales. The experience refined his skill at getting the most out of a crowd–the most money and the most good will.

Not surprisingly, those traits lead him to the announcer’s booth at rodeos…..

Always, he had the knack for telling a rodeo yarn. For western Canadian events, he found the perfect balance between folksy and friendly, information and boosterism. He was smart enough to announce details and rules for events, acknowledge the home communities of competitors, pump up expectations, play down failures, and do it all without stepping into the role that was designated to the rodeo judge.

It was a fine line to walk, but announcers helped understand and value events, and organizers knew it. In Calgary and across the country, great announcers such as Ed Whalen became so closely linked with events, local audiences were deeply saddened by their retirements or passing away. But the shows went on, and new voices filled the silence. Today’s announcers face stiff competition from those who preceded them, but with talent and luck, they, too, will make their mark. And all of us who work with audiences can learn from them, whether we are presenting our writing or programs to young and old.

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Calgary Stampede 2012

Countless visitors have been enjoying endless special events to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the city’s stampede. With something for everyone, tourists and hometown revelers enjoy free breakfasts; snack on hi-cal, decadent delights; and gaze into the night sky to marvel at spectacular fireworks.

Personally, I enjoy wandering the midway even though I am not as adventurous as the thousands of young people who climb on seemingly death-defying rides.
Born and raised in Alberta, I sincerely respect the athletes who impress crowds with their saddle and bareback riding, barrel racing, steer-wrestling and calf roping. For many, the thrill of seeing the chucks reaffirms the talents of outstanding wagon drivers such as King Kelly Sutherland. And this year in Calgary, we have marveled at how early photographers captioned the action-filled events throughout the century.

For me, however, I am reminded of our limited understanding of “stampede” history. A few years ago, I wrote a book called Awed, Amused and Alarmed: Fairs, Rodeos and Regattas in Western Canada. I love historical research, and not surprisingly, the Calgary Stampede’s history was high on my list of research topics. Now, every time I see the photos of Guy Weadick, I try not to think about the ways that history has been adapted to suit the myths we want to believe.

Like others, I think Weadick is a handsome portrayal of cowboys and ranching sports, and I am always drawn to the photo of him is his “ten-gallon” cowboy hat. But to give him so much credit for the first Calgary Stampede is to revise some of its fine and fascinating history.
In fact, I am torn. Do I simply let everyone enjoy the photos of him and the myths we have built around him? Or do I suggest the even more fascinating history that connects us to one of the greatest wild west shows in North American history?

Yes, I have read Weadick’s essay, “How I Started the Calgary Stampede.” However, in the process of writing my books, I have interviewed countless individuals concerning their life stories. What people recount concerning their lives is generally how they want others to remember events. Not surprisingly, that can be biased. And often, their recollections are not the same as the way the broader public of the time perceived events.

Outstanding academic historians spend their lives engaged in far more in-depth research than I have managed for my public history books, but I have researched in enough depth to realize that Weadick’s essay omits some of the most fascinating aspects of that first stampede.

In my next blog, I’ll talk more about the recounting of life stories and history as related to Weadick and the Calgary Stampede. I did decide that the upcoming blog is better timing for my comments. That way, we can thoroughly enjoy a wonderful weekend focused on celebrating the festivities and glimpses of history as presented this centennial year.

However, if you are interested in life story or additional background to the Calgary Stampede, as well as in our ties to Vancouver’s summer exhibitions and the Manitoba Stampede & Exhibition (July 19-22, 2012), check next week’s blog.