Mid-August simmered and there were spots of rain when a friend and I drove from Edmonton to Pincher Creek, Alberta for their 2014 professional rodeo.
Pincher Creek is nestled near the foothills, between Black Diamond on Highway 22 (the Cowboy Trail) and Fort Macleod on Highway 3. My friend had never seen a rodeo, despite being from Red Deer.
That was about to change.
Saddle bronc riding, ladies barrel racing, steer roping, and more boast a long history in Alberta. Beginning as part of a cowboy's daily activities and leisure pursuits, honing skills were needed for survival on farms and ranches in the early west, and competitions between them sprang up in corrals across north America.
On Canada Day in 1902, the town of Raymond, Alberta hosted what became known as Canada's first professional rodeo, a decade before the Calgary Stampede. The Raymond Stampede, as well as the town of Raymond, were named after Raymond Knight, who organized the first Canadian pro rodeo and apparently was called the “Buffalo Bill of Canada” by the King of England. Alberta is known to some as Cowboy Country.
In the late 1880s, the Afro-American cowboy legend John Ware worked at the famous Bar U ranch before starting his own ranch near Duchess, Alberta. Early pro rodeo icons like the Lund family in Raymond made epic names for themselves outside their own communities; men and women whose legacies still stand tall in the sunset. DeLoss Lund rode the first bucking horse at the 1902 Raymond Stampede. These are Albertan mythmakers.
Main Street in Pincher Creek was closed to traffic on August 16 to showcase a delightful western parade, complete with big green tractors, First Nations floats, antique cars and farm machinery. There were lots of horses expertly ridden by youth, mature cowboys and cowgirls, all with silver buckles the size of Alberta on their belts. The Legionnaires were represented, medals on their chests and jaunty in blue jackets. A woman rode a tricycle beside a handsome dog, surrounded with balloons flown by the local Humane Society. People in pick-up trucks threw candy for the children and seniors.
While lined up with kids in red cowboy hats for Hawaiian shaved ice, I heard the loudspeaker blare that Dustin Flundra took first place for saddle bronc riding on Calico Girl. Kirsty White won top ladies barrel racer, Dustin Walker first in steer wrestling, and Buck Moen grabbed a gainful trophy for novice bareback riding. My sister used to barrel race thirty years ago. She doesn't know the contestants now, who are at least a couple of generations younger than her compatriots.
A sport unlike any other, rodeo appeals to something basic in the hearts of our western communities.
“We were country before country was cool.”