Celebrating Our Common “Wild West” Heritage at the Calgary Stampede

Posted by Michelle Cook
July 15, 2012
Consul General Lochman and Husband Welcome American Cowboys to Canada

Every July for the last 100 years, Calgary, Alberta has hosted a boot-stompin', bronco-bustin', pancake-eatin', chuckwagon-racin' celebration of all things wild and western known as the Calgary Stampede. This ten-day extravaganza draws hundreds of thousands of would-be cowboys (and girls!) from around the world to experience the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” CNN named it one of the top 10 events in the world to attend this year, but few who pass through the gates of Stampede Park are aware of the deep American roots of this legendary Canadian event.

Starting in the late 1890s, Americans from across the United States began arriving in Alberta looking for good, reliable crop and range land. They came by the thousands -- in trains, in wagons, and on horseback -- to settle here and begin new lives. In a few short years, the American population in the region skyrocketed. In 1894, records showed just 50 Americans living in western Canada; by 1905, that number had jumped to 105,000. This spurred the opening of the first U.S. Consulate in the province in 1906.

One of the Americans who made his way to Calgary was entrepreneur Guy Weadick, a working cowboy and entertainer from New York with a dream of showcasing cowboy skills as a tribute to the “old” west. He shared his idea with another American, George Lane, one of the “Big Four” ranchers in the area who backed Weadick's first exhibition in 1912. Weadick invited another American, Charlie Russell, the famous cowboy artist, to exhibit his paintings of ranchers and native peoples -- depictions that were a huge draw at the first Stampede. And although he didn't participate in the first Stampede, John Ware, a former slave from South Carolina who moved to the western United States following emancipation and then settled in Canada to hone and share his cowboy skills, was instrumental in establishing the rodeo events that remain the mainstay of the Stampede today.

The early cowboy culture and pioneering spirit citizens on both sides of the border shared laid the foundation for the strong historical, business, and people-to-people ties that exist today. The American population has remained significant and strong in the region. The consular section at the U.S. Consulate in Calgary estimates there are 80,000 to 250,000 Americans in the district, one of the largest populations outside of the United States. U.S. two-way trade with Alberta alone is greater than U.S. trade with Brazil.

In recent years, Stampede has become THE networking venue of choice for all levels of corporate and government personnel to do business in western Canada. It's common to see cabinet ministers and company CEOs -- even Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- flipping pancakes at open-air events around town where countless deals are made with a handshake and tipped cowboy hats. Last weekend, Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia brought an economic development mission to Calgary to promote Georgia products and explore economic opportunities, taking advantage of the critical mass of business and government contacts “stampeding” around town.

On the 100th Anniversary of the Calgary Stampede and Exhibition, the United States Consulate General in Calgary has been proudly highlighting the role that Americans played in establishing the Stampede. The Consulate supported the efforts of Calgary's Glenbow Museum to re-create the original exhibition of 20 Charlie Russell paintings displayed in 1912 -- many of them now in U.S. collections. Consulate staff also provided a grant for a local poet and playwright, Cheryl Foggo, to stage a theatrical tribute to African-American cowboy John Ware. With the help of the Stampede archivist, we identified historical photos of Weadick, Lane, and other Americans for display at our July 4 party, where the guests included a few real-life professional American cowboys competing in the Stampede rodeo events this week.

The Calgary Stampede grew out of the joint efforts of Canadians and Americans a century ago to preserve traditional values and culture of the North American west. Over the years, countless American cowboys, rodeo callers, wranglers, riders, and visitors have come to Canada to do some “stampeding,” making it a truly remarkable example of the lasting and deep friendship Canada and the United States enjoy. This centennial year is no different. Many of the cowboys competing in the professional rodeo events are Americans. Even the announcers and head rodeo clown are U.S. citizens.

As the stampede concludes today, July 15, we wish all who participated good luck and happy trails!

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