A history of rodeo in Red Deer

The history of rodeo in Alberta goes back to the turn of the last century

On Tuesday, Jan. 16th, 2018, there was the exciting official announcement that the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (C.P.R.A.) has chosen Red Deer and Westerner Park as the new location of the annual Canadian Rodeo Finals. This prestigious and very popular event will first be staged from Oct. 30th to Nov. 4th, 2018. It will be held in Red Deer for at least the next 10 years.

The history of rodeo in Alberta goes back to the turn of the last century.

Many summer and fall rodeo events were held in communities across the province (or more properly ‘territory’ since Alberta was not a province until 1905).

A big boost came in 1912 when Guy Weadick organized the first Calgary Stampede.

It was an enormous success, in a large part because Weadick combined traditional rodeo events with several entertainments that he had learned through his association with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West shows.

On July 23rd, 1918, the first annual Benalto Fair and Stampede was held, although the rodeo events were limited to bucking horse competitions as well as horse racing. However, this annual event has continued to this day.

On Labour Day, 1922, the first full-scale stampede was held in Red Deer at the fairgrounds. Events included bulldogging, roping contests, steer riding, horse bucking competitions and various forms of horse racing. The weather was good and attendance was strong.

In September 1923, the Red Deer Great War Veterans Association (forerunner of the Legion) decided to organize a stampede in Red Deer.

The show proved to be so popular that while it was originally planned to last for two days, the event was expanded to three.

In 1924, the Red Deer Fair decided to hold chuckwagon races, much like the ones held in Calgary.

However, an attempt to hold another local stampede with rodeo events in the fall of the same year was a bust. Publicity was poor. Many people also felt that the location on the Banting farm (current site of the Red Deer College) was too far out of town.

There was subsequently a long lull in the holding of rodeos and stampedes in Red Deer. Then, in June 1945, the Red Deer Elks Lodge organized its first annual stampede.

This Elks Stampede was initially very popular.

However, the Red Deer Fair also decided to reintroduce chuckwagon racing to its annual attractions. Unfortunately, there did not seem to be enough local support for an annual summer fair, with nightly chuckwagon races, and a stampede. Consequently, the last Elks Stampede was held in June 1949.

In the spring of 1966, the Red Deer Exhibition Association decided to organize an indoor rodeo dubbed the Silver Buckle Rodeo. Although it was organized in a brief span of time, it was an enormous success.

An impressive line-up of champion cowboys from across western Canada and the United States competed for the silver buckles.

Thousands of fans jammed the stands in the arena to watch. Hundreds more had to be turned away because of a lack of seats. Nevertheless, a very popular annual event was born.

Attempts to add rodeo to the annual summertime Red Deer Exhibition were not as successful.

In 1969, College Rodeo was added to the attractions at the Exhibition. However, it failed to become an annual event. In 1975, the Red Deer Round-Up Rodeo was started as part of the Exhibition. However, it was held for the last time in 1978, largely because the infield in front of the old grandstand was not well suited for the type of rodeo events that were staged.

The relocation of the exhibition grounds to the new Westerner Park on the south side of the City in 1982 provided a big boost to the Silver Buckle Rodeo. There were much improved facilities and much more seating for fans.

Unfortunately, organizational difficulties later beset the Silver Buckle Rodeo. The last one was staged in March 2003. However, professional bull-riding competitions were held at the Westerner after that.

Now, Red Deer again has a premier annual rodeo, one that is sure to draw national, and even international attention to our community.

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