Always a Stampede Host
My earliest memories include our special summer times going to the Calgary Stampede (CS)! Our Dad had been a cowboy before moving to Calgary when I was born in 1944 so going to the Stampede had always been a big part of his life. Growing up, my Dad and his brothers would ride on the family cattle for a fun pastime when their parents weren't home. They broke horses as part of their ranch work.
We had American relatives who came to visit with us when it was Stampede time. One summer we had 18 people staying in our little house with every part of the floor covered at night. Mom and Dad had friends who lived on 7th Avenue SW. in a big old rambling house. Dad would take us to their house to watch the parade from the front porch. It was very magical.
My sister and I would be given our little pink cowgirl hats with the strings under our chins with the little round slide to help keep them on. My Dad and brother had specially made beautiful satin cowboy shirts with all the rope and trim. Our Mom wore a pretty cowgirl outfit too.
Off we would go to the Stampede grounds, to visit the barns and see all the animals. If we weren't with our parents, our older brother was always with us to take care of us. Finally after visiting the barns, we were off to ride on the scary rides, take a ride through the ghost house, walk through the house of mirrors and ride on the other rides. Our American cousins loved the tilt-a-whirl. I was the youngest and always got squished and very dizzy on that ride. We got to eat cotton candy, chips, and hamburgers with fried onions. We loved all the smells from the food booths. It was fun to watch the different 'freak shows' on the midway such as the bearded woman and her midget husband, the fellows who guessed people's weight and / or age; the fortune tellers and the men who would be able to hit the button with a big hammer and make the bell ring and win a prize. The cupie dolls and the other prizes were elusive to us, but we watched with envy when people won them. My cousin said he paid to see a 'Giant Man Eating Chicken'. When he went into the tent, it was a very large man eating chicken! He said that this show was cancelled after a few days because of the complaints from people who attended. He thought that the laugh he has had throughout his life was worth the inexpensive cost of attending!
In about 1951 and 1952, our Dad and a friend opened a hamburger booth at the Stampede. What a fantastic time it was for us, and it was a lot of work. If we stayed home one day and peeled potatoes all day for French fries, we may be allowed to go to the Stampede the following day. There was a big metal tub out in the yard filled with potatoes and so we sat and peeled and peeled in order to do our favorite activity, go to the Calgary Stampede.
One evening when the booth was being built and stocked, we kids would be at the Stampede Grounds with our parents. While they were working on the booth, we were free to wander around and watch all the action. In one of the buildings, a big door was open (perhaps that was the Corral) and we could watch women's wrestling. I thought the women were just beautiful. I had never seen anyone dressed that way and I was fascinated with all the stuff going on. Every once in awhile a man would come along and tell us kids to go away and the doors would be closed. We would return later and watch until they shooed us away again. Our brother warned us not to tell our parents that we had been watching this activity. After that experience, when ladies from our church would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would tell them, much to our Mom's dismay that I wanted to be a lady wrestler. Our Mom and the church ladies were quite shocked that I would even know what that was.
During that time, the Stampede grounds were dirt covered with sawdust. When we were able to help in our Dad's booth, we would look through the sawdust in the hope of finding money that had been dropped to spend on rides. Dad butchered his own cattle and made his own hamburgers that were delicious. One day working in the booth, I overheard a customer say that he really liked the food in our booth and he liked it that no one hollered 'come and get your hamburgers and hot dogs here'. The booth was always very busy as customers came by word of mouth. My cousin said that he loved my Dad having a booth because Dad would give him a free hamburger or a cold Stubby orange or root beer pop from the tub filled with ice.
After working and serving for awhile in the booth, we kids might get a quarter to go off and go on the rides and buy treats. At that time, one of my favorite rides was the double Ferris wheel. It was very scary when the bottom wheel moved up to be the top wheel. When the Ferris wheel stopped and you were at the top of the double wheels, you were able to see the entire City of Calgary. It was a wonderfully scary ride. Our cousin screamed all the way through the ride even when we were stopped for loading of other people. Another favorite ride of ours was the roller coaster. We would go on these rides as long as we had the money to keep going. When our money was spent, we would just walk around and watch all the action.
We were taken to the Stampede on Children's Day. We would sit in the grandstand and watch all the magician tricks and rodeo events with awe.
Our family moved to Lloydminster in 1956 as our Dad got transferred with his work. I was broken hearted because our Pathfinder's group was going to have a float in the parade and I was going to be able to ride on the float. My Mom said that I was too young to stay in Calgary and needed to go with them when we moved. In Lloydminster, when I was old enough, joined the majorettes and was able to march in the Edmonton Exhibition parade and the Lloydminster parade and in the smaller towns in the area where the band would play, but it never made up for not being able to be in the Calgary Stampede Parade.
Throughout my life, wherever my family lived, we would always come back to Calgary to go to the Stampede. I returned to live in Calgary 12 years ago and I am always host to family and friends who are coming to visit and to attend the Calgary Stampede. Before cell phones, we always met at the clock tower if we got separated!
Lorna (Dick) Dysart