This blog marks the first instalment of a new monthly series about the 1919 Victory Stampede, the second ever Calgary Stampede, which was held 100 years ago to commemorate the end of the Great War.

The second Calgary Stampede was held in 1919 as a spectacular celebration of victory in the Great War. As we will see in coming months in this series, the Victory Stampede was designed to build community spirit in the city of Calgary which was struggling in the aftermath of the war. Throughout the war years, 1914 to 1918, the Calgary Industrial Exhibition had served that very purpose. The Exhibition served a critical role in building and maintaining community spirit and support for the war effort.

Throughout the war, the Exhibition Grounds—known then as Victoria Park—was a year-round gathering place that supported the war effort. The park was used as a training space for local regiments. It was also a sending-off point for troops leaving to join the war in France.

Military Exercise, 1916 CS.99.90.4

Exhibition Manager, Ernie Richardson, was extremely patriotic and designed the wartime exhibitions to build support for the war effort, while showcasing the importance of western agriculture production to the war effort. One of the West’s most important contributions to the war was wheat and grain, which fed Canadian and British soldiers on the Western front – and Richardson wanted to showcase this. For example, the 1915 Exhibition saw more than 200 entries in bread competitions—in the classes of white bread, brown bread and biscuits. This outpouring of enthusiasm inspired the exhibition’s Board of Directors to significantly raise the category’s total prize money the following year.

The wartime exhibitions also featured demonstrations of industrialization. An important component of the exhibition, dating back to the first one in 1885, had been to showcase technology and industrialization. This remained true during the wartime exhibitions, most notably during the 1917 Exhibition, Katherine Stimson attended as “the world’s most famous girl aviator,” although high winds kept her grounded for most of the exhibition.  She returned the following year and, in her plane, tried to race a car around the track. Demonstrations of flight would have been especially interesting to Canadians during the war years, because as the war progressed, planes went from being tools for battlefield reconnaissance to part of the battle themselves.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the wartime exhibitions featured Calgary regiments, especially during the 1915 Exhibition, which was known as the “Khaki Fair.”

1915 Calgary Exhibition Poster

Each day of the 1915 Exhibition featured a special performance by one of the regiments training at Camp Sarcee. For example, Wednesday night featured the 12th Overseas Mounted Rifles, who performed a musical ride and showcased some of their training drills. Each night, after the military demonstration, came a military tattoo, featuring five military bands and the Citizen’s band. The evenings ended with fireworks, as was tradition, but with a twist. The fireworks show was called “The Forcing of the Dardanelles,” after the major, and ultimately unsuccessful, Gallipoli Campaign that was happening in in the Ottoman Empire at that time.  According to the Herald, the “usual set pieces [of fireworks] were interspersed with rockets of great beauty. The show finished off about the usual time and a happy, satisfied crowd made their way home.”

The 12th Mounted Rifles at the Calgary Exhibition, 1915. Glenbow NB-16-391

Throughout the war years, the Exhibition had an important place in building community spirit by focusing on the agricultural skills of the region and the industrial innovation that was taking the world by storm. It was also an important gathering place for the community during the war. This is indicated by high attendance numbers that the Exhibition saw and record attendance from 1916 to1919, which is even more impressive when you consider that a number of Calgarians were at war.

Stay tuned for the next edition of the 1919 Victory Stampede Series, a look back at the history that makes the Stampede what it is today, especially as next Stampede, July 5 – 14, 2019, will mark the 100th anniversary of 1919 Victory Stampede.