Raising Whoopee

I'm 66 and have probably missed only 2 parades. We grew up very poor but somehow managed to participate in the Stampede. One year when I was about 6, complete with red cowboy hat with whistle, we were leaving the rodeo and hit such a crowd of people coming into the grounds that people were fainting and getting hurt. My mom was so afraid that my hat string and whistle would strangle me!

Many parade mornings my Dad would gather up some neighbours for an early morning pancake breakfast and then drive his truck into the city from Bowness with us loaded on plank benches under a canopy in the box. He would back onto the parade route and people along side would be so surprised when the canopy was pulled back and there were so many inside!! He would light the camp stove and serve coffee.

One year we took our vacation away from the city during Stampede. I remember to this day the moment my sister and I realized we would miss the Stampede - how could this happen?! A lot of pouting!

We would spend the Stampede afternoons at the rodeo and sit on the chutes. You could just sit there until that chute was needed and then move on to another one. When it was time for the bulls, the cowboys would put up a temporary fence to make the infield smaller and then we would just stand right behind the fence to watch the bull riding. We did this for a number of years until one year this big burly cowboy said "no women allowed". We argued the case that we had done this for years but to no avail as he forcibly removed me!

We would also go to the grounds when the train arrived - the Royal American Shows train - and watch the midway being set up. I recall the side shows with the hawkers and strange people.

Also in those days many young people would fill their cars and hit downtown the Sunday night before the Stampede started. We would drive around and around 9th and 7th Avenues, honking and yahooing!! Good innocent fun. But one year a celebrity was arriving at the Palliser so everyone parked their cars and got out to watch; then we went to 8th Avenue as a group. There was a large police presence, with dogs, and people started to run, knocking over garbage cans and anything portable, and breaking windows. Sitting seemed to be the best position to take! One year I feigned illness and told my boss I wouldn't be at work but instead went square dancing downtown - well, wouldn't you know it, my photo was on the front page of the Herald the next day!!

When we had our own children they certainly were introduced to the Stampede from a young age - I especially remember pushing their stroller over all those cables on the midway.

Another special moment was the opening of the new grandstand - everyone was so in awe that when they would get to the top or bottom of the escalator they would just stop and stare - paying no heed to the people behind and the jam they were causing - it was scary - you could see how people get trampled in such situations.

Our two eldest became Young Canadians - although one lasted only one year - not his thing! All those years of driving down to rehearsals - but in those days there was no fundraising and that was the only obligation for the parent - to see that your child arrived for practices. I remember our other son's initial audition. He had his vocal piece all practiced and we waited and waited and then a little girl mentioned she had to dance -- and my son says "I'm not dancing. Let's get out of here!" Well, his name was called and he automatically responded. When he returned he was beaming and said "the dancing was the best part!" As proud parents we spent many, many nights watching the chucks from the infield and then standing for hours with the crowd in front of the Grandstand show, camera in hand. Well, now he is a vocal director for the Young Canadians and Vice Chair of the Stampede Talent Search Committee.

One year, for the fun of it, I decided to work for the Stampede - in the General Store in Weadickville. And it was FUN - but so tiring for a middle-aged cowgal. I was awarded a Good Host Award and when I was presented with it, I burst into tears - they thought from gratitude but it was actually from exhaustion! On one occasion the "gunfighters" came in to "rob" the store and just before the "robbery" instructed me to hit them with a belt. Well, in they came with guns ablazing; I grabbed the belt, started chasing, hitting, screaming, yelling -- "We've been robbed, we've been robbed" - all the while with the biggest, goofiest smile on my face - not a very good actress!! Well, the second time they came in to rob the store, they suggested I use the soft, straw end of a broom!! Guess I left welts with the belt!! Just doing what I was told!

My husband, God rest his soul, played drums in a band with the banjo virtuoso, Johnny Thorson, and can-can dancers from Edmonton, at the first Stampede Casino in the Big 4 Building.

Much has changed and much has stayed the same - The Stampede is now 10 days and I still get up early, don my jeans and cowboy hat, and venture down to watch the parade - my current husband rode horseback in it last year. I still hit the grounds. I still cheer on the chucks and watch the Young Canadians. And I am still proud of this city and its heritage. Yahoo!!

Thanks for letting me reminisce, Marilyn Meek