Academic journal article Urban History Review

Lassoed and Branded: The Calgary Exhibition and Stampede and the City of Calgary, 1889-1976

Academic journal article Urban History Review

Lassoed and Branded: The Calgary Exhibition and Stampede and the City of Calgary, 1889-1976

Article excerpt


There is a complex relationship between the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede (Stampede) and the City of Calgary. On the one band, the Stampede depends on the municipal government for its very existence. On the other, its arm's-length structure and success in attracting power and influence lend an independence more typical of a private corporation. Since both agree on the value of the Stampede to the City, relations between the two have been far more co-operative than strained. However, in the two instances of public controversy over decisions made by both, the City has allowed the Stampede to take the burden of blame, with the result that the public's image of the Stampede has blurred while its aura of independence has been enhanced.


La relation entre le Calgary Exhibition and Stampede (Stampede) et la ville de Calgary est pour le moins complexe. D'une part, le Stampede n'existerait pas sans le gou-vernement municipal. D'autre part, sa structure propre et le fait qu'il reussisse a attirer des elements de pouvoir et d'influence lui conferent une independance typique des entreprises privees. Puisque les deux parties s'entendent sur I'importance du Stampede pour la ville, les relations qu'elles entretiennent sont davantage cooperatives que contraintes. Toutefois, dans les deux episodes de controverse publique sur des decisions prises par les deux parties, la ville a laisse le Stampede encourir le blame. Il en est resulte que l'image publique du Stampede s'est estompee alors que son aura d'independance a pris du relief.


No one would dispute the powerful influence of the Exhibition and Stampede (Stampede) on Calgary. (1) Every July, a ten-day celebration of heritage, cowboy culture, and western mythology transforms an energetic corporate metropolis into a relaxed, fun-loving "Cowtown." Its global publicity unrivalled in the country, the Stampede also contributes significantly to Calgary's identifiable--if controversial--urban image. Given this important connection, it is surprising that so little is understood about the relationship between Calgary's civic government and the Stampede. Solid studies like James H. Gray's A Brand of Its Own: The 100 Year History of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede (1985), or more popular treatments like Fred Kennedy's Calgary Stampede: The Authentic History of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1964) do not analyze this relationship. Others like Colin Campbell in Stampede City: Politics and Power in the West (1984) reiterate a common, largely unsubstantiated view that the City is a pawn of elitist Stampede interests. (2) Popular perception, even among informed observers, is hazy about how the two corporate bodies actually interact. (3) In 1966 a spokesman for a group of concerned citizens said that the Stampede Board was "some sort of quasi public body though no one is entirely sure." (4) In reality, the relationship between the two is complex, and falls historically into three broad categories. The first concerns the powerful ties that have always bound them. Less obvious are their disagreements. Finally, they have managed to cultivate a separateness that is more apparent than real. This popular perception has prejudiced the Stampede more than the City.

Annual fairs and exhibitions are part of the European and North American historical experience. Their continuing importance today can be seen in the serious competition for world fairs and expositions. The German corporation Frankfurt Messe, for example, organizes over one hundred trade fairs a year throughout the world. In Canada, exhibitions historically filled a variety of needs. They enabled social interaction and provided important entertainment opportunities. (5) Through press coverage they advertised regional wealth and potential to the outside world. They also brought global products to specific audiences. Most significantly in terms of the host town or city, they were mediums for civic promotion or boosting, particularly during the early twentieth-century settlement boom. …

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