Jun 302013


Rodeo Memories in the fiftieth year of the “Big M”

When I say stampede, most Canadians think of the Calgary Stampede, an annual ten day rodeo held in Calgary, Alberta in early July. The first Calgary Stampede was held in 1912. It is now one of the world’s largest rodeo events, attracting over one million visitors a year. Last week the city of Calgary experienced the worst flooding in its history. But even so, the 2013 Calgary Stampede is expected to to ahead as planned and clean-up activities are underway.

 When we talk about stampede in my house, chances are it is the Manitoba Stampede and Exhibition we are talking about. The Big “M” is held mid-July in my home town of Morris, Manitoba, located about 50 kilometres south of Winnipeg.


Morris, home of Manitoba Stampede

The Manitoba Stampede and Exhibition, hosted by the Valley Agricultural Society, is the only pro-rodeo event in Manitoba. It is the next stop after Calgary for many cowboys on the rodeo circuit. It features typical rodeo events, such as saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, ladies barrel racing, and team roping, as well as pony chuckwagon and chariot racing. The agricultural fair component features dairy and horse shows. There is a midway, a free stage with musical entertainment, a beer garden, a cabaret, and a petting zoo.

Rodeo traces it roots to early cattle herding practices, when the Spanish ruled the American Southwest. The traditions and equipment of the vaqueros, Spanish cattlemen, influenced cowboys and led to modern rodeo competitions. The first Canadian rodeo took place in Raymond, Alberta in 1903. Today, there are over 50 events in western Canada listed on the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association website. There are also many amateur rodeos held across the country.
27,000 people attended the first Manitoba Stampede and Exhibition in 1964. I was a young girl at the time and unable to attend because of a childhood illness. I remember watching the parade pass by my aunt and uncle’s front yard, and my sibling and cousins bringing me cotton candy from the fair grounds, although how much of it blew away in the wind before it got to me I don’t remember. But, over the years, I’ve collected many other memories.
Manitoba Stampede pin
(Manitoba Stampede adopted the 

red hat as its symbol in 1969)
Local organizations run concession stands during the event. I remember working with my family selling hot dogs at the Curling Club booth. I remember my father selling scratch and win tickets for the Lion’s Club. I remember entering baking in the fair, hoping to win some change for rides on the midway. I remember a paid job as a teenager that provided enough spare cash to take in many midway rides. 
I’ve watched many rodeo shows, cheered on chuckwagons, held my breath while a cowboy struggled to stay on a bronco, laughed at the clown’s corny jokes, and enjoyed the special entertainment offered between events, my favourite being the RCMP Musical Ride, which has appeared at the Stampede several times.
Chuckwagon races at the Manitoba Stampede & Exhibition
Photo credit: Shanoor Habib Munmu…cc
There were pancake breakfasts. There were walks through the barn to see the animals entered in the dairy and horse shows. In dry years, my father watered the track with his commercial fertilizer spreader. In wet years, my shoes caked with mud. I remember the July busyness in my brother’s house the years he was General Manager. My favourite adult memory is bringing my family to my parents’s house to watch the parade, which started on the street in front of their place. My daughter, her cousins, and friends’ children scrambled to collect the candy thrown by parade participants as they passed.
This year’s event, on July 18-21, 2013, marks 50 years of the Manitoba Stampede and Exhibition. A commemorative book illustrates in words and pictures the changes that have occurred over its 50 year history. Changes began with extra tiers and a roof on the grandstand. New buildings and barns have been built. The grounds have been improved. Events have varied and the number of days the rodeo runs has changed. The street dance that originally occurred in the middle of town became an indoor cabaret. But the 2013 rodeo will include a Friday night street dance at the free stage featuring Jason Petric.
In spite of the changes, many things stay the same. It remains the only pro-rodeo event in Manitoba. The Agricultural Fair portion includes exhibitions of dairy cattle and light and heavy horse shows. And the Manitoba Stampede and Exhibition continues to survive because of the many volunteers involved. Volunteers who prepare and maintain the grounds, sell tickets, ensure cowboy and exhibitor needs are taken care of, organize events, and look after the numerous behind the scene tasks. This year, many of the past volunteers who have moved away, will be back to help the current volunteers celebrate 50 years.

Photo credit: Ed Schipul via Photo Pin cc



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