Tag Archives: western Canada

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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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)

Doors to the Past

‘Tis the season! Museums and heritage parks are opening their doors! Large national and provincial museums are open all year for enthusiasts, but with the onset of spring, the smaller museums rev up to train summer staff, dust artefacts and order stock for their gift shops.

From experience, I know that small-town museums sometimes have amazing discoveries in store for us. One day, while entering the Stettler Town and County Museum, I was surprised to meet a friend coming out the door.

“Oh, I love small town museums,” she said. “In fact, to celebrate my 50th birthday, my sister and I are visiting as many as we can this summer.”

We were definitely kindred souls.

All museums fascinate me, but small town museums are especially luring. Inside the doors, visitors may see a jar for donations, but people are welcome to come in even if they can’t part with a loonie or a fiver.

Usually, the first displays to greet us are related to the community’s First Nations and early settlers. Then, we may be treated to interior design displays of complete living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens as they were furnished in the days of our forbearers. Dresses, costume jewellery and toys suggest the fashion and fun of yesteryear, while commercial displays might range from banks to blacksmith shops to medical offices where displays of primitive dental and medical instruments cause shivers to run down our backs. In other areas, desks, wall maps, blackboards and old books from one-roomed schoolhouses make us aware of how education has changed. Too, we might find carpentry or mechanical tools on display (seemingly ready for use), and more sobering, we will find war mementos donated by local families.

Outside, such museums are often surrounded with by machines of yesteryear, whether related to logging, agriculture, resource development, fisheries or other local industries. Nearby, old cars, trucks, wagons, railway stock or boats are left to the elements or given the most basic shelter to prevent rust and other deteriorating damage. While each machine is truly valued, inadequate budgets mean few storage options.

Fort Chipewyan Museum Faye Holt Collection

Personally, I’ve always found at least one unexpected cultural treasure. A few years ago, I had the good fortune of visiting Fort Chipewyan. There, the entire museum was a cultural treasure! Opened in 1990, the building is a replica of the original Hudson Bay Post. Inside, artefacts, pelts, photos and mementos bring to life the history of Fort Chip, the oldest continuously inhabited community in Alberta. There, I walked in the footsteps of the Beaver, Cree and Chipewyan First Nations. There in 1784, ninety percent of the Chipewyan had died as a result of their first contact with small pox.

Where the museum stood, the North West Company and Hudson Bay Company had fought for the fur trade. Explorers Peter Pond, Peter Fidler and Alexander McKenzie had contemplated maps and made history. How fortunate I was to walk in their footsteps and see the treasures that had been preserved from those early days.

So, I sincerely recommend that you consider every museum—whether big or small—as worthy of a look. Don’t just breeze in and out. Take your time, and be prepared for astonishing surprises.

Yes, ‘tis the season, and these small town museums and their volunteers will welcome you, but perhaps you can drop a toonie or ten into the donation box. Your generosity will be appreciated and help to save more of your precious past.

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