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Lethbridge Rodeo History

Rodeo has been part of Lethbridge history for the past 114 years, starting in 1904, two years after Raymond’s first Stampede. The 1904 rodeo was staged by Ray Knight, creator of the Raymond event, as part of Lethbridge’s annual fair. It wasn’t the only new event that year. A parade was also held with a contingent of 400 Siksiksitaapi. The 1904 event was held at the 40-acre Queen Victoria Park, the original site of the exhibition. In 1911, the rodeo relocated to the present-day exhibition grounds and it was there in 1918 where the amalgamated Fair and Stampede occurred. Some of the events of the 1918 rodeo are familiar today: steer-roping, calf-roping, steer and bull-riding, and bronc-riding. But a few events might be surprising. One was calf branding. Rollo Kinsey, winner of this event, branded 25 calves in nine minutes, three seconds or one calf every 21.7 seconds. There was also a wild horse race and a women’s bronc-riding event. Katie Canutt, Eloise Hasting, Texas Rose, Rose Smith, Myrtle Cox, Prairie Lady Allen were some who participated in this event. The women were primarily from the United States where, by 1916, there were over 200 women competing in the rodeo circuit. Two men who competed against each other at the 1918 Stampede are names well known in the history in Lethbridge and far beyond: Ray Knight and Tom Three Persons. Ray Knight has been called the father of modern rodeo and became known as a rodeo cowboy, stock contractor and rodeo producer. He is also the namesake of the town of Raymond. It was the Lethbridge rodeo which set Tom Three Persons on his rodeo career, though not the 1918 one but the one ten years prior in 1908. His friends convinced him to enter the bronc-riding competition and in his first rodeo, he came in second place. In 1912, he won at the Calgary Stampede (against many professional American riders) and for the win received one thousand dollars, a medal, hand-made trophy saddle and a belt with a gold and silver buckle. In 1935, to celebrate the 50th Jubilee of Lethbridge, Lethbridge turned to a well-known rodeo promoter, Guy Weadick, the man behind the original Calgary Stampede in 1912. Organizers noted Weadick’s slogan as they invited entrants: “A square deal to all, no color, residence or nationality barred. It’s open to the world, come and get it.” But while most events were open to all, there was one special event designed for a particular group. It was a special calf-roping event for “old time cowmen.” To participate in the event, entrants had to confirm that they had been involved in the livestock business in southern Alberta prior to December 31, 1900, and had been at least 20-years-old at that time. Everyone who wished to be part of this event had to submit the date they started working with livestock in southern Alberta, their age in 1900, and the name of the various ranches and stock companies with whom they had worked. This rodeo, during the middle of the Great Depression, stands out in the records, for the rodeo was negatively affected by the Depression and the wars. Indeed, the fair and rodeo had to be rebuilt after the Second World War. Then Mayor Shackleford had a great deal to do with getting it back on track. Shackleford was approached by Charlie Parry and the two, along with Charlie Patching, Charlie Bryant, Bob Kitson, Harry Hurchinson and W.T. Hill, worked to rebuild the event. In 1946, they were assisted in this endeavour by the Rotary Club. The 1946 rodeo was dedicated to the veterans and Herman Linder was invited to stage a three-day rodeo. To get the event off to a grand start, Gene Autry was recruited to lead the rodeo parade. Autry was himself a rodeo performer but also a Hollywood star, singer, musician and song-writer. He came to fame as a singing-cowboy. The 1946 event sent the stage for a strong resurgence of rodeo in the Lethbridge area. The annual rodeo associated with the fair (now known as Whoop-Up Days) wasn’t the only rodeo in Lethbridge. In 1969, Lethbridge was the location of the first International Rodeo Finals hosted by the Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association (IRCA). The IRCA, through a couple of name and membership changes, had its origin in the 1950s when a group from the Kainai Reserve (Fred and Horace Gladstone, Ken and Tuffy Tailfeathers, Floyd and Frank Many Fingers and Rufus Goodstriker) created the Lazy-B 70 Rodeo Club. The rodeo has changed greatly since 1904. But it still continues to thrill audiences and highlight the skills of ranching life. Many great performers and names have participated in the Lethbridge rodeo over the past 100+ years and many more will in the future.
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