Summer in Southern Alberta Always Includes the Stampede

Left Photo: Going to the Calgary Stampede was an exciting adventure which we greatly anticipated because it was time spent with extended family, friends and neighbors who would meet up behind the barns for a shady picnic lunch by the river.

Traveling to Calgary from our hamlet of Lyalta, 25 miles east of the city, to spend the day at the Stampede, (especially if we were planning to attend the parade on Friday morning) meant an early wake-up call, since our Dads would have to do all the farm chores, like milking 10 – 20 cows, before heading out. It was almost every year that we actually convinced our parents it was worth the effort,  and our enjoyment of the event began early in our young lives as evidenced by this photo of us playing with kittens before we departed to Calgary….it was a special red and white sundress with matching red cowboy hat purchased specifically for me (Carol McHardy nee Stewart) to wear to Stampede about 1955, while my younger sister (Linda Murray nee Stewart) also had a new sunbonnet, sundress and of course white sandals for the occasion! Stampede fashion may change each year, but the flavor is always Western.

Right Photo: The other photo is one of our mom, (June Stewart nee Payne) taken around 1939-40 when she was about 8 or 9 standing by the old barns in the parking lot, ready for a day of “Stampeding” with her family.

We loved seeing all the horses, livestock shows, the colourful regalia and headdresses worn by the local first nations, and the displays of local arts and crafts. Sometimes Mom and Grandma would pack a picnic lunch of fried chicken, potato salad, devilled eggs and pie in the car, hopefully parked in the shade by the Elbow River.  We would spread out an old blanket on the grass and take a break from the midway noise before going back inside the grounds for the afternoon rodeo and horse races. Once in awhile we stayed for the evening performance and the thunderous fireworks, of which I was originally, not a fan. I remember being very frightened by the bright light and loud noise, and taking refuge under Grandma’s coat. Going on the merry-go-round, tilt-a whirl, Ferris wheel and other rides kept us kids happy while Grandma loved to play bingo and win cash; Mom liked to play the gold-digger machines.  Often we’d buy a piece of jewelry and have our names engraved on it, while Dad would try his hand at pitching balls into the baskets to win his giant pandas or just wander through the barns, chatting with neighbors he’d run into there. Maybe because the weather was usually hot and sunny, it was a favorite time of year, but our radio in the barn was always set to broadcast the evening chuckwagon races with Joe Carbury doing the announcing  as Dad did the evening milking. We remember seeing Dale Evans, Roy Rogers and Trigger, and our favorites, Larry and Lorrie Collins as well as others in a show at the Corral one year, being very enthralled with the TV stars.

Summer in southern Alberta includes the Stampede for me, since I was born here and have lived in the area all my life. These days the show is different, yet in many ways the same…… we still like to go see the ‘chucks’, the exhibitions, the rides and meet up with our family and neighbors as we celebrate cowboy life each year, donning our western wear one more time!

Carol McHardy