by Terry Lusty, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – The Calgary Stampede wrapped up another successful season! It was held from July 7-16 and came close to establishing a record attendance year with 1.3 million going through the turnstiles – just a tick off the 1.4 million record of 2012. Thus, it appears that they’ve finally overcome not just the effects of the pandemic, but the economic downturn as well.
This year they also celebrated a couple of other milestone achievements including the100th anniversary of the Rangleland Derby, a.k.a. chuckwagon races. This is an exciting sport, and it generates an enormous amount of fundraising for charities.
There are many positive changes to experience at the Stampede some of which include the Nutrien Western Event Centre, upgrading the barns, relocating the Indian Village, tearing down the old BMO and Corral buildings and improving the base soil of the rodeo arena and racetrack – making these a safer and easier going for man and animals alike.
So, yes, one could say quite rightly that the Stampede has recovered quite well in these difficult times despite the battles with world health issues and a downturn in the economy.
Additionally, the entire north portion of Stampede property is continually undergoing new or improved investments, and structures. It’s definitely an ongoing process.
Apart from the chuckwagons celebrating 100 years of operation, is the exciting outcome of the championship finals, the Dash for Cash.
As usual, the championship was determined at the conclusion of the final heat on Sunday, July 16th. The final three competing rigs were: 1) Mob Squad driven by Ross Knight, 2) Spray Lake Sawmills with Layne MacGillivray at the reins and, 3) Grey Eagle Hotel Resort and Casino driven by four-time champion Kurt Bensmiller.
Once the horn sounded, MacGillivray shot into the lead from the number two barrel and set a steady pace on what was a bit of an off-track due to the night-before rain. Once the three rigs got into the homestretch, the Tsuut’ina First Nation’s Grey Eagle wagon tried desperately to run down the leading Spray Lake rig, but MacGillivray had enough left in his thoroughbreds to hold off the pressing Bensmiller and win it all in 1:13:24. MacGillivray’s effort won him the coveted championship title and the $50,000 cheque that came with it. Bensmiller was second in a time of 1:13;58, earning him $20,000, while Knight placed third in the thrilling finale.
“It all came together for us this year,” exclaimed the winner who placed second the previous year. The win, he explained, requires “good people, good horses and lots of luck!”
There were three competitors of Indigenous ancestry as drivers: Todd Baptiste guiding the Red Pheasant Cree Nation wagon, Cody Ridsdale steering the O’Chiese Investment & Business Centre rig and Preston Faithful from Frog Lake driving the Natural Law x Global wagon. For Faithful, this was his first run at the Rangeland Derby and he is viewed as an up-and-comer to watch; he has had some credible accomplishments at some meets, including setting a track record and winning most improved driver.
Another highlight at the Stampede is the daily powwow dance demonstrations on the grandstand stage as well as at Elbow River Camp. The camp also features arts and crafts booths, hand games, traditional cooking methods, tea and bannock sampling and sales, teepee raising, and some open teepee viewing.
Alayiah Wolf Child, 24, is this year’s First Nation Princess. The jingle dancer was chosen as the 2023 princess back in December and said, “It just felt like I was dreaming; it was overwhelming!”
Judging is generally based on such categories as public speaking, attending social events, dance ability and education. As a Stampede tradition, winning as princess, “was the beginning of the bridge being built between two great communities,” she explained.
The 2nd Stampede Saddledome Powwow proved to be an impressive array of colour and energy as hundreds of dancers and visitors flocked to the arena on July 12 and 13 to participate in a serious competition for championship jackets, belt buckles and $2,000 for first place adult categories and jackets, buckles and $1,000 for teen category winners.
Energetic and talented Drum Groups also competed – providing an amazing atmosphere of cultural pride for everyone in attendance.