One of the most popular summer pastimes in Alberta are the annual rodeos and stampedes.
With the centennial of the Calgary Stampede, there has been a lot of attention paid recently to the history of stampedes and rodeos.
While the first Calgary Stampede was held in September of 1912, the first stampede in Alberta was organized in Raymond in 1902. Other communities also held summer and fall rodeo events.
Nevertheless, it was Guy Weadick, the organizer of the 1912 Calgary Stampede, who successfully combined traditional rodeo with several of the entertainments he learned through his association with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West shows.
Because of financing problems, Weadick moved the 1913 Stampede from Calgary to Winnipeg. It was a flop. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 resulted in a long hiatus in large-scale stampedes. However, smaller events continued to be held in such communities as Gleichen and Medicine Hat.
In 1917, the first of the famous Hand Hills Lake stampedes was organized as a means of raising funds for the Red Cross.
On July 23, 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.
The second Calgary Stampede was held in 1919. It was dubbed the Victory Stampede because the terrible Great War was finally over. The celebration was a great success and prompted a number of other communities to hold similar stampedes and shows across the province.
Red Deer also held a Victory Fair that year. However, the Red Deer Agricultural Society decided not to have rodeo events. Instead, the directors hired Lieutenant George Gorman, a former air force pilot, to provide aerial stunts and Red Deer’s first airplane rides.
On July 7, 1920, the Hillsdown local of the United Farmers of Alberta held its first annual stampede on a site east of the Hillsdown post office (some 30 km east of Red Deer).
The event was such a success that another was held the following year. An added attraction to the 1921 stampede was airplane passenger rides by Captain McCall of Calgary.
On Labour Day, 1922, the first full-scale stampede and sports day 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 1923, the third and most successful Calgary Stampede was staged. In September, the Red Deer Great War Veterans Association decided to organize a stampede in Red Deer as a fundraiser for a memorial hall.
The show proved to be so popular that while it was originally planned to last for two days, the event was expanded to three. The trophy for best all-round cowboy went to the famous Jim Ross of Pine Lake.
In 1924, the Red Deer Fair decided to hold chuckwagon races, much like the ones held in Calgary the year before. The new attraction was a great success. The winners were Tom Lauder and Jim Bagley, who had won at the Calgary Stampede two weeks before.
Jim Bagley then decided to hold a stampede and chuckwagon races on his ranch east of Red Deer. Large crowds turned out for the show. However, an attempt to hold another stampede in Red Deer at the beginning of September was a bust. Publicity was poor and many people 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 stampedes in Red Deer, although places such as Benalto and Rocky Mountain House continued to hold successful annual events. It was not until June 1945, that 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. 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.