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

Sorting through family papers this spring, the descendants of A.E. Cross discovered a near-complete collection of postcards from the 1919 Stampede; a veritable scrapbook from one of the Stampede’s Big Four founders. It was rare in 1919 for people to have cameras. Instead, they relied on professional photographers to take pictures of the day’s festivities and sell them as postcards from their shops. Postcards became the Cross family’s tokens of remembrance from an event considered deeply important to building the Calgary community. Indeed, the Big Four collectively strove to ensure that the Stampede brought the “greatest ultimate benefit to Calgary.”[1] Cross wrote that it would be the “greatest ever produced in any part of the world.”[2]

From the Cross Family Collection

The excitement of the Stampede did not disappoint. The final day, witnessed by 11 thousand attendees, saw American cowboys Yakima Canutt and Jesse Stahl win the Saddlebronc and Bareback competitions, respectively. Champion cowgirl Kitty Canutt, married to Yakima, was poised to win the Cowgirl’s Relay Race when she fell from her horse and broke a rib. “Slowly she rose, staggered towards her new mount, and, amid the cheers of thousands, swung into the saddle,” and finished the race, reported the Calgary Herald. Vera McGinnis, another American cowgirl, took first place.[3]

From the Cross Family Collection

When the dust settled, though, the action and excitement of the Stampede was not rewarded with ticket sales. Although Wednesday—parade day and a public holiday—and the final Saturday were well attended, the results were disappointing overall. There were no proceeds left over to go to the Salvation Army, Great War Veterans’ Association or the YMCA.

The first few days of the Stampede saw low attendance. Notice the empty seats in the Grandstand. Courtesy of the Calgary Stampede Archives.

Organizers laid the blame on the entry price. Whereas the annual Calgary Industrial Exhibition cost 25 cents, entry to the Stampede had been $1. It was a high price at a time when the economy was suffering. Writing after the fact, Weadick argued that it had been too close to the war’s end for an event of this magnitude. He said:

I thought that 1919 was just about a year too early… it was too close to the ending of the war, and at the a time when reconstruction would seriously interfere with transportation problems as well as have an effect on the labor situation over the country in general, that would not help the good results necessary to assure ‘The Stampede’ the success desired.[4]

Even so, visitors enjoyed and appreciated the event. Montana cowboy and writer Teddy Blue Abbott was there and felt transported to the old west. “Gosh, it was great—stories of the old Texas trail and the range from the Guadeloupe in Texas to Fort McLeod in Canada went the round,” he recalled.[5]

The 2019 Stampede marks the 100th anniversary of the Victory Stampede. As we reach the eve of Stampede and this blog series draws to a close, it is worth reflecting on the meaning and importance of the Victory Stampede. There are six main reasons that the 1919 Victory Stampede is worth understanding and celebrating.

  1. Creating an annual event

After the Victory Stampede, there was no discussion about holding the Stampede annually. However, Calgary and southern Alberta had won over Weadick and LaDue. They bought a ranch near Longview and the OH Ranch, and laid roots in Alberta. By 1923, the Calgary Exhibition was struggling to keep up their annual attendance. Manager Ernie Richardson remembered the excitement of the 1912 and 1919 Stampedes. Plus, Weadick was close by. He brought Weadick on board as arena manager and made the Stampede Rodeo a feature of the annual Exhibition. The Calgary Exhibition and Stampede was born.

2. Local Identity

Even in 1919, when agriculture was still Alberta’s most important industry, not everyone was a rancher or cowboy. Calgary’s population had grown from 4,000 – 40,000 from 1900-1912. This meant that not everyone had a direct connection to the days of the open range or cattle roundups that the sport of rodeo embodied and celebrated. However, nearly everybody had some connection to the war. Everyone had a brother, uncle or neighbour who had fought, or they worked in a war industry, etc. Celebrating victory provided an avenue for the entire community to connect to the Stampede, western culture and each other. The participation of our veterans and serving armed forces remain an important aspect of the Stampede today.

3.Community Spirit

Calgary and southern Alberta were divided in the post war period. The Stampede offered a place for everyone to come together and celebrate. The growth and development of Stampede Park offered economic opportunities to the city, which was struggling to recover from the war and in the face of recession. Today the Stampede honours this legacy and continues to grow as a year-round gathering place for the community.

Cowgirls in the 1919 Victory Stampede Parade.

4. Professionalization of rodeo

Small steps toward the professionalization of rodeo were taken in 1919, with the creation of the chutes and Infield. That helped build on the standard of professionalism set in 1912, and that the Stampede continues today. The Stampede is the industry leader in animal care and in the science of sport.

5. Elbow River Camp

1919 marked the first Stampede that Elbow River Camp was a formal part of the Calgary Stampede. It provided a space for First Nations to celebrate together, at a time when they were prohibited from doing so on reserves. This is an extremely important lasting legacy of the Stampede, reflected in the hard work of the 26 tipi-owning families and the iconic experience offered in Elbow River Camp.

6. Western Art

The participation of Charlie Russell and Edward Borein in the 1919 Stampede solidified the Stampede’s commitment to stewarding western art, which had started at the first Stampede in 1912. Today, just two examples of this ongoing commitment are the Youth Poster Competition and the Artists Ranch Project, both of which you can see in Western Oasis during the Stampede.

Ultimately, the 1919 Victory Stampede strove to build community at a time of difficulty, which is still an essential part of the Calgary Stampede’s vision today; to build a year-round gathering place for the community. This July, let’s celebrate our long history of community spirit together.  

During the Calgary Stampede, stop by Weadickville to experience the sights and sounds of the 1919 Victory Stampede. Visit the C.M. Russell Museum in Western Oasis to see giclees of the 24 paintings Charlie Russell exhibited at the 1919 Stampede, as well as a photographic exhibit by the Historical committee.

[1] Glenbow Archives M 1287 Guy Weadick Fonds. Stampede publicity, 1912-1952

[2] Glenbow Archives M 1543-596 A.E. Cross Fonds, Cross to A.H. Eckford, July 10, 1919.

[3] Calgary Daily Herald, “Pluck and Daring Marks Finish of Victory Stampede.”

[4] Glenbow Archives M1287-2 Guy Weadick Fonds, Weadick to George Lane, September 12, 1919.

[5] Donna Livingstone, The Cowboy Spirit: Guy Weadick and the Calgary Stampede Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1996), 74.