Guy Weadick had just made the pitch of his life and heard the words all entertainers dread: No thanks.
The Yankee cowboy – a loquacious, self-confident trick roper and vaudeville act – had returned to Calgary in 1912 with a grand idea.
His dream was a frontier contest on a colossal scale, one that would include the best riders and ropers from across the continent squaring off for huge prizes in front of thousands of spectators.
It was to include the greatest assemblage of “Plains Indians,” traders and pioneers ever seen. Among the potential names in mind: The Stampede.
But after laying out his plan to managers of the Calgary Industrial Exhibition, one of the young city’s most important institutions, the 27-year-old cowpoke’s offer was turned down flat.
Weadick, who had travelled all the way from Europe to make his ambitious proposal, returned to his hotel. Maybe Winnipeg would like the idea.
This is the story of the first Stampede and the wild, improbable ride it took from Weadick’s grand vision to a wondrous – even controversial – reality in the dying days of summer in 1912.
Canadian Pacific Railway. McMullen was intrigued by the idea, but advised the young man that it should simmer a bit longer. McMullen told Weadick he’d contact him when the time was right.
Nearly four years later, Weadick and his wife were touring the music halls of Great Britain and the circuses of Europe with their roping act when a letter arrived from McMullen.
With the land boom on and settlers pouring into the area, “He thought the time was ripe for me to come to Calgary to place my idea before those who might be interested in financially sponsoring it,” Weadick recalled for the Herald in 1952.
But it was no easy sell. McMullen introduced Weadick to several potential benefactors, but no one was interested.
“They expressed the opinion that the big land boom that was on then, which was attracting thousands of new settlers, was going to develop farming, and that the day of the ranches and the cowboy was all over,” Weadick said.
The welcome wasn’t any better at the Calgary Industrial Exhibition, where Weadick hoped to stage the event if he could scare up the financial support.
The Exhibition had been around for nearly as long as the city itself, the first event held in 1886. From modest origins, it grew into an important annual occurrence.
The event was packed with agricultural, sporting and other activities that celebrated and promoted the region. Merry-go-rounds, ferris wheels and itinerant showmen were gradually brought in. Grand parades added to the pageantry.
In short, it was huge. It must have looked like an ideal arrangement to Weadick, but when he made the proposal to the Exhibition’s general manager, it was rejected.
“The manager of the Exhibition, Ernie Richardson, who was a big name, actually was loath to have the Stampede on the exhibition grounds, ” Foran says.
The board of directors agreed. “They thought that rodeo was incompatible with an urban environment.”
Weadick returned to his hotel with his Stampede dream dashed. “I had about given up the idea,” Weadick told the Herald later.
But then the plucky cow-boy caught a break.
He volunteered to pony up $10,000 and a string of good bucking horses for the event “if” Weadick could get Calgarians interested.
That was still a pretty big ask, but then something quite remarkable happened.
Some folks say Weadick was sent for, others say McMullen arranged a meeting.
Regardless of how it came about, the young cowboy ended up sitting down with the owner of the Bar U ranch, George Lane, who then set a meeting with Pat Burns and A.E. Cross.
The businessmen had made their fortunes in the cattle industry and become highly respected citizens and philanthropists.
...In a scene akin to a cowboy version of today’s Dragons’ Den TV show, Weadick made his pitch, again.
The rodeo would be the biggest gathering of cowboys, First Nations and prospectors ever seen. More importantly, it would perpetuate the memory of the region’s pioneers.
The late 1800s had been the golden age of the cowboy, but by the time Alberta became a province in 1905, it was coming to an end.
Settlers were setting up farms and farms meant fences, which choked off the routes of the big cattle drives and the ranches that sustained them.
Mother Nature then unleashed the devastating winter of 1906-07, which killed huge numbers of Alberta’s range cattle.
“And so they wanted to have a farewell party for a dying way of life,” Foran says. “The Stampede was supposed to be the last hurrah.”