Tag Archives: history organizations

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.

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.

Editors: Writers Most Valuable Allies

Blogging feels like freedom, but surprisingly, what I have most missed while creating these freelance blogs is an editor, a second set of eyes to pick up any mistakes. No matter how much we have written, we overlook details when proofing our own work. We “read” what is in our heads, not the words as they appear. Similarly, when new to a genre, we may not realize how style or technology impacts the process.

With WordPress, options abound, and I know I’ll appreciate them as I become more proficient. However, the tiny window for drafting means I can see only one paragraph at a time. Too, I still haven’t found the spell and grammar checks, but initially, I posted without ever proofreading a black and white print copy of the entire article.

As an individual reader and writer, I applaud the concept of going paperless, but it doesn’t work for me. I am a print learner, so seeing the words on paper is the best process for my learning style. I need to view the entire draft to know if it makes sense. I need see the printed words, pick up my red pen and separate myself from the content. I need to become an editor, and that is an extremely difficult task if working with our own words.

When proofing our drafts, we don’t notice that we have repeated ourselves or bored readers with irrelevant details. Similarly, we may not recognize that what is clear in our own heads is not clear for the detached reader. Certainly, I have improved my process. I’m using a word processor for drafts, printing the posts and proofing with pen in hand. But I will always miss some mistakes. So, I was elated when a good friend said she would edit and proofread for me.

I am so pleased to introduce Shirlee Smith Matheson to all of you. She is a talented and experienced writer, author of 16 published books and many short stories. A popular public historian, her specialty is Canadian aviation, as well as the stories and history of northern Canada. Nine of her books are adult nonfiction, but also, she has written seven novels for the juvenile and young adult market. Shirlee has offered hundreds of readings and workshops at libraries, schools and museums, and she has mentored writers as writer-in-residence for Medicine Hat Public Library, Calgary Public Library and Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society (AWCS), Calgary. As well, she has instructed workshops for young writers’ conferences throughout Alberta and B.C. In addition, she has taught for Mount Royal University and AWCS.

Herself an award winning author, Shirlee has been a judge for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, a responsibility that has required her to read 60 or more books to determine which ones should be the award winners. An avid reader and a graduate of Athabasca University, Shirlee is a member of numerous writers’ organization and aviation museums. In 2001, she received an Honorary Associate of Arts Degree from Northern Lights College in recognition of her contributions to the literary arts. Shirlee understands the power of words and the world of writers.

How fortunate I am to have her help. Shirlee, what an honour it is to welcome you to my blog and to the blogosphere! For more details about Shirlee and her work, be sure to check out her website www.ssmatheson.ca