The Future is All About Rodeo

December 5, 2008
Business in Calgary

When you think about it, it's really all about rodeo, ridin, ropin, hangin in there, and toughin it out. Few events better illustrate the challenges evolving for our sense of shared culture as we transition into urbanity and away from values based in our rural roots.

Calgary contains 1.1 million people, close to twice as many as were living within its boundaries a generation ago. Its bold new Centre City plan calls for a complete overhaul of its planning ambitions and for the importation of between 40,000 and 50,000 people over the next 20 years into its downtown core. The aim is environmental, cultural and infrastructure sustainability. To put this in perspective, the plan intends to convert a sprawling, horizontal city into one that is more vertical and with downtown density levels that will rival those in Manhattan.

Demographically, its need for talent and labour has traditionally drawn people from across the country. However, as the impact of the baby boom's low level of reproduction become more evident in society and as other venues such as Saskatchewan and British Columbia become more competitive in terms of the net income and lifestyle they can offer, this too is changing. Statistics Canada trends in the past year show that while Alberta's population growth continues to be robust, it is at the moment entirely dependent upon immigration for that growth and is beginning to experience something rarely seen in its past, negative interprovincial migration. In other words, more native-born Canadians are leaving Alberta than are coming to it. This will have an impact on the city. Its look and its feel will evolve in a new direction although provided the promise it offers to ambitious newcomers is fulfilled there's no reason to think that the essence of its entrepreneurial energy will change.

Suffice to say that is not the case in small town and rural Alberta or, for instance, large parts of the Maritimes.

There, society looks much as it did 25 years ago. Population levels are relatively stable, stagnant is another way of looking at it, and opportunities for young people locally are less robust. This means that every year a certain number of people are drawn away by the jobs and excitement of the big cities and also that, due to the relative lack of opportunity, immigrants and their cultural influences are going to be less evident in these communities.

The end result is that while 25 years ago cities such as Calgary were typically informed by the same set of cultural influences as were found in the rural and small-town communities that surrounded it, the same is not the case today and based on current trends will continue to be more and more disparate in the years ahead. Similar trends can be found in Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver and other cities.

This need not be a bad thing. But it is a thing.

This brings us again to rodeo and its efforts to adapt its sport,“ professional and otherwise, to the emerging sensibilities of urban culture and how it views animals. Calf roping is now, for instance, termed tie-down roping and, even more significantly, it and steer wrestling was completely eliminated this past year from the events at the Cloverdale Rodeo in B.C. This followed an incident the previous year in which a calf was put down after its leg was broken.

People who live in urban areas tend to view animals through the lens of their experience with them and that is primarily as pets. When one dies, it is a tragedy. People from rural cultures are also fond and sensitive to the humane treatment of animals but naturally view them through the lens of their experience, which is primarily as livestock and beasts of burden. In the rural experience, animals die all the time; the event is neither rare nor does it evoke the same sense of tragedy. Simply, it is nature.

Maintaining a common language that can bridge the gap between urban and rural Canada will be a new and greater challenge than at any time in our past.