For 10 years of my life it was an annual duty to write—or make someone else write—an editorial praising the tradition of the Calgary Stampede. (I am thinking, by the way, of footnoting the word “editorial” so that future generations may understand what such a thing was but that’s a blog for another week.)
I’ve done the “honour our past” schtick, the “go away silly, intellectually incoherent radical animal rights people” hissy fit, and the “in praise of the cowboy way” routine from every possible angle. And, yes, the “how to merge Calgary’s urban hipsters with Cardston’s cowboys” theme has been ground and analyzed endlessly by a full tableau of metaphysical mortars and pestles. And the great western “do eastern media seriously think no horses ever die at Woodbine?” whine is a cornerstone of my philosophical lexicon.
This year, on the 100th anniversary of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, I have little left to say that is new about all that. Except, of course, that I don’t think it needs to be done anymore. This, after all, is an event that was started up by an entrepreneur, Guy Weadick, in order to honour the conclusion of the open range way of life that pretty much ended in 1905 when Alberta became a province and, as they say, “the barbed wire went up.” It was a party.
So I am not going to write about inter-provincial and international immigrants embracing these crazy 10 days and how by dressing up as cowboys and cowgirls together we all share in the celebration of a common culture of people who aren’t afraid to move to an unknown place and take a chance on themselves; or that when it comes right down to it the urban artist and the country rancher share—if not similar politics—the same contrarian nature synonymous with rugged individualism.
Nope—all that’s been done to death and in fact, done quite magnificently most recently by Gordon Laird in last weekend’s Globe and Mail.
Instead, I will honour the Stampede for a simple reason. It has endured for 100 years, which may not sound like a lot of time in a historical sense, but when you think about it, what else has survived the 20th century and arrived intact in the 21st century? Not the British Empire. Not the Catholic church in Quebec. Not the Soviet Union (communism, admittedly, appears to be harder to kill than Rasputin). Not fiscal prudence, nor, for sure, the United Church. All pretty much gone.
But my Stampede is not gone. It lives every bit as vibrantly and passionately as the day it was born. It has survived those who thought diversity (and I actually heard a director once say this) was pretty much covered because, after all, “we’ve got a girl and an Indian.” It rolls ever onwards despite the poseurs of urban estheticism who turned their nose up at it. It has endured not because it is rife with meaning or symbolism or philosophical extension.
It is still here quite simply for the main reason it was started: it is thrills, spills, fellowship, laughter, squeals of delight and—most of all—just good old fun.
Nothing more, when you think about it, needs to be said. At least not by me.