The white hat symbolizes Calgary’s special brand of western hospitality and Tourism. Calgary’s White Hat Awards recognize “inspiring Calgarians in the tourism industry who go above and beyond and strive to make their guests’ experience a memorable one.”

This year, the Calgary Stampede had 34 employees nominated for a white hat award – and five volunteers. Stampede was honoured with three White Hat Awards:

Mayor’s White Hat Award: Suelin Richards, Calgary Stampede

Best Volunteer — Tourism and/or Hospitality: Keith Rutherford, Calgary Stampede

Best Bartender/Wine Steward: Jenny Slanisky, Calgary Stampede

We caught up with our two volunteer winners, Suelin Richards of the Indian Events committee  and Keith Rutherford of the Chuckwagon committee.

Best Volunteer — Tourism and/or Hospitality: Keith Rutherford, Calgary Stampede
Best Volunteer — Tourism and/or Hospitality: Keith Rutherford, Calgary Stampede

When did you start volunteering for the Stampede and how did you get involved?

Keith: A friend asked me to volunteer with the set up and livestock handling in a program called Rodeo College that provided aspiring young Rodeo competitors with professional bull riders’ instruction. Rodeo College brought together rural and urban kids to teach them to ride steers. That experience led to a volunteer position with the Stampede Rodeo and Chuckwagon races. That was almost 50 years ago.

Suelin: I was raised in Calgary, so, you know, we had Stampede in our blood. I have a friend who works in the barn and I was always asking and hinting to see if they need help. I’d always wanted to be a part of the Indian Village. I started the year of the flood in 2013 with the Indian Events committee.

Tell us what you do as a volunteer for the Stampede.

Suelin: My area is the horses. The Indian Village horses and riders are in the Parade every year and they are a part of the daily Indian Parade that goes downtown every day. I look after the horse and riders.

Note: Suelin was instrumental in creating the Young Wrangler Youth award in 2014, which recognizes youth participation and leadership in the barns among First Nations youth. She also worked with the Stampede Veterinarians and tipi owners to enhance animal care for the Indian Village horses.

Keith: I narrate the history and evolution of Chuckwagon racing to guests in the Infield suites and behind the scenes tours in the Chuckwagon barns. Basically, after 1850, a growing market for beef led to large and long cattle drives from Texas and Arizona along the Sedalia, Chisholm and Western trails. Wagons, called Chuckwagons, were used to carry bedrolls, water, food and supplies. (Chuck is the western term for food). In 1923 Guy Weadick convinced the Big Four to back the first chuckwagon race.

Mayor’s White Hat Award: Suelin Richards, Calgary Stampede
Mayor’s White Hat Award: Suelin Richards, Calgary Stampede

What’s it like being a Stampede volunteer? Why is it important?

Suelin: Stampede has terrific leadership and staff – it’s easy to want to jump in and work to put the show on. The Tipi owners I work with have been fantastic – and I’m blessed that they’ve taken me in. I’ve learned to listen. To understand and be proud of everything they’ve gone through and what they are going through. First Nations culture is such a big part of our history and legacy – and we live in Treaty 7 territory. I felt it was important to be a part of that and share their culture with the world.

Keith: Volunteering itself is a rewarding thing. I think the Calgary Stampede laid the foundation for volunteerism in this region. Back in the day, there were just a few employees and everyone else was a volunteer. That’s how it got started. Today there are volunteers in all sorts of organizations. If you volunteer, you’re part of a community.

What does the white hat and western hospitality mean to you?

Keith: The white hat is a symbol of Calgary and the west. Western hospitality is to be open, kind, generous and inclusive. It means making a guest feel like they want to come back.

Suelin: Western hospitality is about treating people the way you like to be treated. Be good, kind, happy, generous—and that will get you far in life.

What was it like to win a White Hat Award?

Suelin: When I got the email that I was nominated, I thought it was a joke. I was shocked. I like to work behind the scenes. There are so many Calgarians deserving of this award. It was a massive honour. I was at a loss for words.

Keith: Being nominated knocked the breath out of me. It’s a tremendous honour to be nominated. A huge thing. I’ve spent a lot of time talking and entertaining people – it’s something I enjoy doing. It’s a humbling thing to be recognized for this. When I accepted the award, I said: I accept this award on behalf of all the volunteers of Calgary Stampede.

Suelin Richards receives Mayor's White Hat Award
Suelin Richards receives Mayor’s White Hat Award