At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Canadians join fellow Commonwealth nations in a moment of silence to mark the end of the First World War. Although hostilities ended on November 11, 1918 the war did not formally conclude until the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June, 1919. Everyone welcomed peace. Guelph-born Lt. Col. John McCrae served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and penned “In Flanders Field” about his experience at the Second Battle of Ypres; the poem still serves as a reminder of the sacrifices that members of the armed forces make and is part of the reason we wear poppies each November.
Alberta’s agricultural production was crucial in supporting troops from across the British Empire. During the First World War, the Calgary Exhibition celebrated this production as well as the ongoing war effort and the thousands of western Canadians who served. Throughout the war, buildings on the Exhibition grounds were used as barracks and training spaces for 2,500 soldiers at a time.
After the war’s end, Secretary of the Exhibition Ernie Richardson proposed a celebratory Stampede similar to the “Peace Festival” held in England. Securing funding from A.E. Cross, Pat Burns, George Lane and A.J. McLean – the Big Four – Richardson once again brought Guy Weadick to Calgary. The Victory Stampede was held in September 1919. All profits were set to go to the Great War Veteran’s Association, the Salvation Army or the YMCA. Despite nearly 60,000 attendees, the event barely broke even. Still, the Victory Stampede was a fitting way for Calgarians to celebrate peace and honour the war’s veterans.
The Canadian Forces continue to have a central role in the Stampede. They march in the Parade and the Forces’ Midway display featuring a tank is always a crowd favourite. In 2011, during the Afghanistan War, the Stampede brought a Service member on stage each night just before the Evening Show and celebrated them as part of the Deserving Soldier program.
As we approach Remembrance Day, be sure to take time to reflect on the sacrifices made by members of the Canadian Forces as well as their friends and families. Honour them by wearing a poppy near your heart.