Academic journal article Alberta History

Ernie Richardson: The Stampede's Other Founder

Academic journal article Alberta History

Ernie Richardson: The Stampede's Other Founder

Article excerpt

The Calgary Exhibition and Stampede was established as a unique event in the decade following its first extravaganza in 1923. By the mid 1940s, its combination of myth and reality, education and entertainment, had forged the template that has remained relatively unchanged. Two individual driving forces were responsible. Guy Weadick is rightly recognized as a founding force and doubtless his name will ring loud in the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 1912 Stampede. Less known is Ernest L. (Ernie) Richardson, long time manager of the Calgary Exhibition. Like Weadick, Richardson was a visionary. Unlike Weadick, whose goal was to use heritage and a rodeo competition to produce the world's best entertainment package, Richardson's first love was agriculture, which he saw in defining terms. Lacking Weadick's showmanship and charisma, Richardson matched them with his consummate organizational and business management skills. In those shining years from 1923 into the 1930s the two were an unstoppable force. The modern Stampede owes as much to one as to the other.

Though the Stampede of 1912 is recognized in foundational terms, the Exhibition was much older and was the wagon on which Weadick's Stampede was able to ride. The first Exhibition date of 1886 has been important enough to deserve centennial recognition. James Gray's commissioned book, A Brand of its Own: the 100 Year History of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede (1985) shows where Exhibition and Stampede management stood with respect to historical beginnings. (1)

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The fledgling Exhibition faced hard times before entering the twentieth century as its own entity instead of an adjunct of its parent, the Calgary Agricultural Society. By 1912 it had established permanence and a solid working relationship with the City, while its grounds had already become Calgary's first gathering place. Most important, it was building a tradition. When the first Stampede was held in 1912, the exhibition was already an annual destination place with more than 100,000 Calgarians and visitors attending it in July. The annual report that year was read by General Manager Ernest Richardson. It was his sixth. He would read another twenty-eight before he retired.

In 1923, the Stampede merged with the Exhibition to produce the prototype of the event we know today. Over the next several years, the event was publicly recognized as the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede although the word "Stampede" alone was beginning to appear in popular discourse. However, in the eyes of the Board of Directors, the event was still the Exhibition, albeit with a new addition. Indeed, not until 1933 was the word "Stampede" incorporated into the institution's title, and then only in response to a pending lawsuit over copyright to the word. (2)

The annual reports gave the Stampede secondary consideration during these years, including it only as a separate section along with such others as the Parade, Exhibits, and Horse Racing. Between 1923 and the mid 1930s, Ernie Richardson and management simply saw themselves in charge of an Exhibition incorporating a component popularly labeled, "the Stampede." Guy Weadick, the man who had brought this Stampede-component to the Exhibition and who was now its leader and guardian, did not see things in the same light.

Ernie Richardson was born to a farming family in 1876 near Wicklow, Ontario. (3) After completing his education in Grafton, he was apprenticed in the printing trade, becoming a journeyman printer with the London Printing and Lithographing Co. in London, Ontario. Finding that a printer's life was not for him, he enrolled in the Ontario School of Agriculture and graduated two years later with a diploma in Agriculture. He managed a dairy farm for a while in Myrtle, Ontario, before deciding to head west in 1899. Following a short stint with the Colonial Investment Company in Winnipeg, he was hired by the federal government to oversee a shipment of purebred cattle to Regina. …

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