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

“Calgary Rapidly Becoming First Convention City” read the headline in the Calgary Daily Herald, the week before the start of 1919 Victory Stampede.

Calgary throws open its doors  to the thousands of visitors who will be among us during the sessions of the Alberta Industrial Congress, the Dominion Underwriters’ convention and the big Victory Stampede, and is preparing to make them comfortable and to see that they have the best time they ever had on any previous convention jaunt.[1]

The article went on to explain that Calgary had hotels to accommodate 3,000 visitors, as well as a growing number of restaurants and cafes, grounded, the article boasts, in the “spirited citizens of this go-ahead metropolis of the last great west” and the city’s “spick and span appearance.”[2]

Stampede Park, too, was growing its role as a year-round gathering place for the community and as the city’s premier host venue. Since the first Calgary Industrial Exhibition had been held in 1886, Stampede Park had been the city’s fair-grounds. Federal funding received for the Dominion Exhibition in 1908 had facilitated the construction of the Industrial Exhibits building, a wooden Grandstand and an Arts building.

The Industrial Exhibits building (left) was constructed for the 1908 Dominion Exhibition. It was located on the south side of 17th Avenue, roughly where the Corral is today. It burned down in 1931.  

The needs of the city—both from local users and conventions—were outpacing the capacity of Stampede Park. As early as 1913, the Exhibition Board of Directors identified a need to expand Stampede Park’s infrastructure. Over 35 additional groups and events had been hosted on Stampede Park that year, including many of the city’s hockey and curling leagues. The Exhibition’s master plan included repositioning the track, building a larger, fireproof Grandstand, an athletic field, exhibit buildings, park space and a playground. In June 1914, the Calgary City Council passed a money by-law worth $360,000—which is approximately $9 million in 2019 dollars—to support the development, but the outbreak of war in August put the plans on hold. By 1919, the Exhibition was in a position to build on some of those early ideas.

The Exhibition’s plans for Victoria Park in 1913 included repositioning the track, something that would not ultimately take place until 1974.[3]

Work began in March, 1919 on Victoria Pavilion and a new Grandstand. The structures were operable—though not fully complete—by July 1, in time for the annual Exhibition and
“the last coat of paint dried” on the Grandstand in time for the Victory Stampede in August.[4]

Victoria Pavilion opened as a livestock show and sales arena, with seating for 1,500 people and stabling for 600 animals. The Exhibition Board had worked hard to make Stampede Park the centre of the region’s agricultural network. The annual summer Exhibition was an important component of this, and so too was the annual Bull Sale, which had started in 1901. Victoria Pavilion was a key part in their vision for the city and Exhibition.

The city’s avid curlers took to Victoria Pavilion just as quickly. Victoria Arena had been built in 1912 to house local hockey leagues, but the city’s numerous curlers were still looking for a permanent home. During the winter, Victoria Pavilion’s stabling walls were moved aside and 14 curling sheets were pebbled; an additional five sheets were later added to the sheep-swine building to fulfill demand. Today, Victoria Pavilion is the oldest building on Stampede Park.

 

Victoria Pavilion

The Grandstand was a roofed, concrete building with seating for 6,000. Fireproofing and enlarging the Grandstand were the main considerations, but its construction presented new programming opportunities for the Exhibition. A 75-foot high steel ski jump would be built on top of the Grandstand a few years later, during the winter carnivals of 1921 and 1922, designed to bring the community to celebrate on Stampede Park during the long Calgary winter.

The Grandstand was used as a ski jump during the Calgary Winter Carnival of 1921 and 1922.

Underneath the seats of the Grandstand were two floors of dedicated exhibit and sales space. During the 1919 Victory Stampede, this space was adapted into a gallery space where visitors were invited to see an exhibition of 24 paintings by famed western artist Charlie Russell, free of charge.[5] After the rodeo each afternoon, visitors were invited to the Victoria Pavilion to see a “Wild West performance” featuring mule races and other events that were a “complete change from the afternoon program.”[6]

 

In 1919, Stampede Park was evolving, with the creation of fit-for-purpose spaces that fulfilled the needs of the Exhibition, the Stampede, conferences and the year-round activities of Calgarians like hockey and curling. The Exhibition Board created the infrastructure needed to meet and advance the needs of the community, creating a welcoming space for them to gather year-round.

Although Stampede Park has changed over the last century, our vision has not waivered. Here we are, one hundred years later, with the same goal of continuing to build a year-round gathering place for the community and a convention space that will put Calgary on the map as a Tier One Convention city.

 

[1] Calgary Daily Herald, “Calgary Rapidly Becoming First Convention City.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] Calgary Industrial Exhibition Annual Report, 1913.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Calgary Daily Herald, “Charlie Russell, Cowboy Artist, is Coming Here: Will be One of the Enthusiastic Spectators at Victory Stampede.”

[6] Calgary Daily Herald, “World’s Greatest Stampede Began This Afternoon,” 25 August 1919.