This blog marks the second 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.

When the First World War ended on November 11, one hundred years ago this month, Calgarians celebrated. A peace parade headed by massed bands and a float of the German Kaiser and the Crown Prince travelled down 6th Avenue ending at City Hall, where the fake German heads of state were hung by their fake necks. Concerts were held every hour at different places around the city, and the day ended with a bonfire on Crescent Heights Hill, where the “Kaiser” and “Crown Prince” were burned in effigy (as a model).[1]

Glenbow NA-5393-5 Peace Celebration on Crescent Heights

In the days and weeks and months after November 11, however, the toll taken by the city during the war years became increasingly apparent. The population of Alberta during the First World War was around 500,000; nearly 50,000 men, or 35.1 per cent of men aged 18-45 had fought in the war, and of those 6,140 were killed in action and another 20,000 came home maimed or wounded.[2] Countless others returned home scarred by the horror of trench warfare and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—then known as “shell shock.” Calgary’s losses were proportional to the rest of the province. The city, like the rest of the province and country, was in mourning.

Southern Alberta was also suffering from deep scars and divisions. Many farmers resented the federal government, which in 1917 had gone back on its promise not to force their sons to fight, thereby taking them away from essential war work and the family farm. The deep bitterness caused over conscription was intensified by the promise of the cancellation of the Wheat Board, which had regulated wartime prices for grain.

Many of the veterans who returned home to Canada felt betrayed by their nations. Jobs were hard to find and the work force had become increasingly technical and specialized during the war years leaving the unskilled labour offered by many veterans poorly paid. There was little government support to help soldiers who returned home able-bodied to find work or get more education. To top it off, it was apparent that the people who had stayed home from the war benefited more than those who had fought it. Although many workers’ wages were low, they had, at the very least, risen for inflation during the war, while a private had continued to earn $1.10 a day for the duration.[3]

Labour unrest broke out across the country in 1919. A.E. Cross, one of the Big Four founders of the 1912 Stampede and owner of the Calgary Brewing & Malting Company, saw his workers ask for a 25 per cent raise in 1919.[4] All of these societal tensions were heightened by the fact that the Spanish flu had hit the province and prohibition had been in place since 1916. The unrest was all capped by a fear about what would happen to Calgary and southern Alberta if the 1919 crop failed. Cross wrote in July, 1919, “We are having one of the driest seasons and the country is in worse shape than I ever have seen it. The old grass is pretty well eaten off and the hay crop will be practically nil in the South and very little in the North. If it’s a hard winter I don’t know what is going to become of the livestock owners as they simply cannot provide the hay. It is too bad when we want such a good crop to pay off the liabilities of the country.”[5]

CS.99.15.293 A.E. Cross

Glenbow NA-2345-19 Ernie Richardson, Manager of the Exhibition and Treasurer of the 1919 Victory Stampede

It was in this context that Calgary Exhibition Manager, Ernie Richardson, proposed to hold a “Victory Stampede” in August, 1919. He wanted the Stampede to be part of the summer Peace Celebrations being held across Europe. Richardson still held an Exhibition the first week of July, 1919, as happened every year. With the exception of First World War flying ace Fred McCall having to crash land his plane on the midway Ferris Wheel when the engine died, the Exhibition was a success.[6] However, Richardson felt that the Stampede, more than the Exhibition, was a spectacle worth of the peace celebrations. It would be an event to raise community spirit in a period of anguish and discontent.

Calgary Stampede Archives. Captain Fred McCall conducted aerials alongside “Wop” May during the 1919 Exhibition. One afternoon, while flying Ernie Richardson’s children, McCall’s engine died and he crash landed on the Ferris wheel. No one was injured.

The “Big Four” – Cross, along with Pat Burns, A.J. Maclean and George Lane—agreed. They brought Guy Weadick back to Calgary to run the second-ever Calgary Stampede, with Richardson acting as Stampede Treasurer. Just like in 1912, the Big Four provided financial backing. This time, however, all of the proceeds were promised to the Salvation Army, Great War Veterans Association and the YMCA. It was all about community spirit. The souvenir program that year said it best: “knowing that a REAL exhibition of this style of work has always appealed to natives not only of the West, but to the dwellers of the East and foreign countries alike, [the Stampede] was considered the most logical for this section of the country—to demonstrate in typical Western style the joy and exuberance felt here in knowing that the Great War had concluded victoriously for the Allied arms.”[7] During a time of unrest, uncertainty and recovery, the 1919 Victory Stampede was going to offer Calgarians a place to celebrate together.

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. Next Stampede, July 5 – 14, 2019, will mark the 100th anniversary of 1919 Victory Stampede.

[1] Calgary Stampede, “Official Programme” (1919), 7.

[2] Adriana Davies and Jeff Keshen, The Frontier of Patriotism: Alberta and the First World War (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2015), xi.

[3] Desmond Morton and Glenn Wright, “The Bonus Campaign, 1919-1921,” Canadian Historical Review LXIV: 2 (1983): 153-154.

[4] Glenbow Archives M1543-596, A.E. Cross Fonds, “L. Johnson (I?), Secretary of the International Union of the United Brewery Workmen to Cross, local Union No. 124, April 28, 1919.”

[5] Ibid., “Cross to A.H. Eckford, July 10, 1919.”

[6] James H. Gray, A Brand of Its Own: The 100 Year History of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede (Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1985), 49-51

[7] The Calgary Daily Herald, “Programme of Peace Celebration Today,” 11 November 1918.