The Greatest Medieval Show On Earth


(published without the permission of the Vancouver Humane Society – hey, I thought they could use the free publicity)

The Calgary Stampede is taking place this week. The Stampede is a polarizing event in Calgary, you either love it or you hate it. You either attend it, or you leave town (despite what the City and Stampede organizers would tell you, no, not everyone likes it). Unfortunately, not enjoying the Stampede in Calgary is kind of like being anti-Iraq war in the USA in 2004, so you don’t really speak against it if someone asks you.

About a million people pass through the gates each year, made up of families, tourists and teenagers. Yes, locals go, but often only if they’re hosting friends from out of town. Tourists arrive in Calgary to find the city transformed into a retro wild west. Truly, Calgary hangs its hat on its history. It seems there’s nothing current or upcoming to bother celebrating, so we defer to life as it was a hundred years ago.

The Calgary Stampede is famous for a few things: the midway (rides and games), various foods on sticks, the agricultural exhibition (ever wonder what life on a farm is like?) and the rodeo. Ah, yes, the rodeo. He ad lin es were made recently after the Vancouver Humane Society wanted to place an ad (see top) in the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun, denouncing rodeo events like Calf Roping (oops, I mean “Tie-down Roping” – the politically correct term) as being cruel to the animals. Now I ask you, what’s so inhumane about screaming and hitting a 3-month old cow, so it runs out of a chute, gets chased down by a man on a horse, has a rope wrung around its neck, which becomes taught, flinging the animal to the ground, and then the man runs to it, throws it to the ground again (presuming it got back to its feet) and ties its feet with another rope?

Frankly, I think the idea of doing something like that to a young animal is barbaric. The Stampede, err (oh heck, let’s call a spade a spade), the whole province of Alberta is enamored with its ties to the past. Like if we hadn’t been cowboys and pioneers we wouldn’t have become anything. And if we don’t continue to be cowboys and pioneers we don’t have a future. Sure, there’s pride to be taken in our past, to an extent (we did round up all the Indians and put them in reserves, and we also hunted buffalo and bison to near extinction), but really, why are people so content to celebrate and relive the past than to accept what we did as humble human beings and put more effort and emphasis into where we’re going? There’s nothing progressive about the conservative attitude of this province – thank goodness they dropped the adjective.

But back to the topic at hand. Animals. I’m proud of the Humane Society for wanting to speak out, but the fact that it’s the Vancouver Humane Society raised my eyebrows. The unaffiliated Calgary Humane Society actually supports the Stampede, and has come out publicly saying they are consulted and proclaim that the Stampede carefully monitors events and passionately cares for their animals. Reading between the lines, one would interpret that as, “we’ve been asked by the Stampede not to voice any concern over what they do, and in fact they provide us with substantial amounts of funding by endorsing their events, so if we were to ever follow our mandate and work to protect the lives and well-being of these animals, we’d be out a few bucks and chastised by the whole city.”

Well, this isn’t the limit of the Stampede’s tyranny. I said that the Vancouver Humane Society wanted to run ads… Well, it turned out their ads were rejected by the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun newspapers. The Herald said it reserves the right to reject any ad they wish, and the Sun came out a littler harder, arguing that the Humane Society was stirring a pot outside its jurisdiction. Now, coming from someone in the advertising business, let me just say that these days if someone came to me offering to buy a full page ad, I’d probably take it, even if it pissed off another advertiser. However, I can safely assume that the Herald and Sun were shaking in their cowboy boots at the prospect of a call from the Calgary Stampede the day that ad would have run. The Stampede is very financially successful, and is regarded as a venerable institution in Calgary. You don’t mess with them.

The comments coming from Calgarians range from “well, I bet you ain’t a vegetarian” to “once again a group of do gooders attacking a culture and history they do not understand.” First of all, personally, no I am not a vegetarian, but I would not associate eating beef with entertainment nor do I hope they strangle, terrify and abuse the animals I eat (not to mention in all cases I try to buy organic and free range meats). Second of all, again, enough of the regression! What culture isn’t amenable? Should we celebrate going to war with the French and the Americans because that’s in our history too? Why don’t we hang people any more? Seemed to work back in the day. And really, why we aren’t still taking steam powered trains to other cities and building our houses out of grass and mud is beyond me.

Three things need to change: 1) Stop hurting animals for entertainment. And claiming they aren’t being abused in rodeo events is a farce. Let me tie-down rope your dog sometime, then we’ll call it even. 2) Enough autocracy. The Stampede does not own and control Calgary, nor do Calgarians know better or get to slam the door on criticism from other Canadians. The idea that you’re either a) perfect or b) to be left alone to your own devices is, frankly, pathetic and dissociative from the country that services and protects you when you call for help. And 3) Albertans need to stop living in the past. Even if it brings in millions of dollars of tourism spending, eventually the allure will come to an end, and we’ll be left with legacies and memories and nothing else. Planning for the future is so much more interesting than reliving our actions of the past. Just ask anyone who’s been subjected to Grandpa’s dinnertime stories for the 154th time.

Let’s not prevent progress in the name of history. That’s nothing more than a convoluted and backwards path to irrelevancy.

About the author cdub

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  1. Hey there, I happen to work for VHS and I think this is a great post. We’ve had a lot of hate mail come in, but an equal amount of encouraging emails as well.
    The reason we stepped in was because as a Humane Society, the Calgary Humane Society has a duty (like all other registered humane societies) to call for a ban on rodeo.
    It is sad to see that CHS isn’t doing this, though there are a lot of people in the city who support the ban on calf-roping.


  2. For years I have had an sinking feeling about the Stampede that I could not put into words. You’ve articulated the issues I was only passively aware of very well. Cowboys and cowgirls don’t have to live in the past, but by continuing to practice antiquated and inhumane rodeo enteratainment, the Stampede really paints itself into a corner.


  3. nestandsparkle July 9, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    I have a lot of respect for many of the things that the Stampede organization is doing, and know a lot of their staff through my job. They put on a cultural festival that brings our city to life and they are active in arts, social issues, and events all year. But the ongoing death and injury of animals in the name of sport, entertainment, personal gain and profit (rodeo is a big money sport for the people who compete) is disgusting to me. I really can’t stomach it and it prevents me from being able to support anything about the Stampede, even though there are things that I would like to support. Here’s the latest bad news – 3 animals dead this year:

    Keep up the good work Vancouver Humane Society! There are a pile of independent media outlets and well-read blogs in Calgary that would probably be thrilled to spread your messages and be part of influencing change.


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